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Engineers Turned Living Venus Flytrap Into Cyborg Robotic Grabber

The cyborg plant operates from an app and moves just like a robotic grabber but with more grace.

Engineers Turned Living Venus Flytrap Into Cyborg Robotic Grabber
The Venus flytrap with the robotic arm Wenlong Li et al./Nature Electronics

Researchers turned a living Venus flytrap plant into a cyborg robotic arm capable of grabbing delicate and small objects. This mini plant robot adds a new contender in the sphere of electronic grippers, which are typically clunkier and unable to grab very small and fine items.

The new robotic plant is a creation of engineers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and the team's findings were published in the journal Nature Electronics.

Nature working with robotics

The Venus flytrap, officially called Dionaea muscipula, is a small carnivorous plant that catches its prey, small insects, by trapping them in its "mouth." The plant's two leaves shut quickly as soon as they feel the prey, working a bit like a mouth closing. 

The team took the head of a Venus flytrap and kitted its leaves out with small electrodes, which were then charged with a small electric voltage, triggering the plant to shut tight. The plant's leaves were able to continue operating in an open/shut way for up to a day after being severed from the main body of the plant. 

The team then attached the leaves onto a robotic arm and linked the entire contraption to a smartphone app. From the app, the researchers were able to open and close the robotic Venus flytrap on command.

Engineers Turned Living Venus Flytrap Into Cyborg Robotic Grabber
How the robotic Venus flytrap works with the smartphone app. Source: Wenlong Li et al./Nature Electronics

The main purpose of this research was to find a way of creating robotic mechanisms able to pick up tiny, delicate objects without harming them. And this particular cyborg creation was able to do just that.

Engineers Turned Living Venus Flytrap Into Cyborg Robotic Grabber
The Venus flytrap with the robotic arm catching a small wire. Source: Wenlong Li et al./Nature Electronics

During its testing, the team was able to make the robotic Venus flytrap clutch a piece of wire only one-half of a millimeter in diameter. And when the enhanced plant wasn't attached to the robotic arm, it caught one-gram weight that was slowly moving.

Engineers Turned Living Venus Flytrap Into Cyborg Robotic Grabber
The Venus flytrap without the robotic arm catching a moving weight. Source: Wenlong Li et al./Nature Electronics

As robotics improve year in and year out, this type of engineering and creativty will prove vital for enhancing how well, and delicately, robots can assist in everyday actions.

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