For creatures without opposable thumbs, chameleons are exceptionally good at reaching out and grabbing things. That’s thanks to their very special tongues. At one and a half times a chameleon’s body length, these tongues can dart out and snatch prey on impact with sticky, gripping flaps of skin. In fact, Chameleon tongue mechanics are so ingenious that they inspired the design of a new robot hand.
Called the FlexShapeGripper, the tool was created by engineering services company Festo in conjunction with the University of Oslo. Unlike the clumsy metal claws of current, Edward Scissorhands-like robot arms, the FlexShapeGripper is equipped with a silicon bag filled with fluid. Like the chameleon tongue, this bag grips securely around any object it touches, meaning it can pick up anything from glass dishes to paper clips to credit cards. It’s a much more dextrous robot hand, able to pick up a much wider range of shapes and materials. It can even pick up several items at once.
Factories, which use robot hands, are most likely to benefit from this new design. But maybe in the future it will also potentially be used for reaching across the room to grab a milkshake from the fridge when you’re too lazy to get off your couch.