Working out of the 3D Printing Lab at the university’s Center for Fine Print Research, they’ve created an ‘artificial muscle’ that closely mimics the movement and function of tentacles that you’d find in an octopus or jellyfish. The artificial muscles are made from a Shape Memory Alloy material (Biometal) which contracts when heated by an electric current. The biometal wire is embedded inside a 3D printed tentacle arm which is able to move in various directions when stimulated.
Why 3D Printing?
3D printing is able to provide the complex shape, complete with cavities for the Biometal wires to run through, that would be difficult for conventional silicone molding to replicate. By directly 3D printing the tentacles, the researchers are able to cut out the molding stage altogether, speed up design iterations and easily make changes to the tentacle structures without the high price of changing the molding tools.
For more on the 3D printed tentacle work, read Peter Walters’ and David McGoran’s academic paper, which they presented at IS&T Digital Fabrication 2011.