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This squishy tentacle robot may haunt your dreams, but it could also help you in a disaster

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Robots are metallic and hard, right? Wrong. A new robot built at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab is rubbery and wriggly, and built to squirm around tight corners.

The creation is meant to be an arm for what are known as soft robots — machines that use compressed air to move their soft body parts, making them safe to be around humans and capable of feats with which hard robots might struggle. It’s inspired by octopus tentacles and moves by puffing up different segments of its body.

Unlike many other soft robots, the tentacle really is made of 100 percent soft material — silicone rubber.

“Designing away all the hard components forces us to think about the more difficult questions. Is it possible to do useful manipulation with a robot that’s as soft as chewing gum?” team lead Andrew Marchese said in a press release.

Designing out all of the hard components allows the robot to move in especially tight tunnels and corners. That might make it useful in a disaster or search and rescue operation — areas soft robots are especially poised to make a big impact.

“I’m not saying that the world should be filled with robotic octopus tentacles on assembly lines,” Marchese said in the release. “I just want to challenge the notion that robots have to look or act a certain way.”