A robot made with a Venus flytrap can grab fragile objects

A new robotic grabber is ripped from the plant world. It’s made with a severed piece of a Venus flytrap. The novel device can grasp tiny, delicate objects.

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a carnivorous plant. It preys on small animals, such as insects. Normally, the plant scores a meal when prey touches delicate hairs on one of the plant’s jawlike leaves. That triggers the trap to snap shut. But the researchers designed a method to force hair-trigger leaves to close.

They stuck electrodes to the leaves and applied a small electric voltage. The leaves still worked even when they’d been cut from the plant. They could still shut upon command for up to a day. Materials scientist Wenlong Li and colleagues work at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. They described their new grabber January 25 in Nature Electronics.

Scientists controlled a Venus flytrap with electrodes on its leaves. This video shows how researchers used a smartphone to direct it to grasp small objects like a wire and a moving weight.

To make a grabber they could control, Li’s team attached a piece of a flytrap to a robotic arm. They used it to pick up a piece of wire one-half of a millimeter (0.02 inch) in diameter. The flytrap also caught a slowly moving 1-gram (0.04 ounce) weight. The researchers even and used a smartphone app to control the trap.

Typical robot grabbers are stiff and clunky, so they could damage fragile objects. The Venus flytrap grabbers are soft. But there’s a drawback. After the traps close, they take hours to reopen. That means the bot had better make the catch on the first try.

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