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A robot arm carrying a Venus trap can catch delicate objects

A new robotic sensor is taken directly from the plant world. The device, made with a cut piece of a trap against Venus flies, can capture small, delicate objects, researchers reported Jan. 25 in Nature Electronics.

Normally, the carnivore Dionaea muscipula gets a meal when unsuspected prey touch delicate hairs on one of the plant’s jaw-like leaves, which triggers the trap (SN: 10/14/20). But by sticking electrodes to the leaves and applying a small electrical voltage, the researchers designed a method to force the closure of Venus flies. Even when cut from the plant, the leaves retained the ability to close at the helm for up to a day, say materials scientist Wenlong Li and colleagues at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore.

The integration of soft, flexible plant material into robotics could help pick up fragile objects that would otherwise be damaged by rigid, clumsy tweezers, the researchers say. So Li’s team connected a piece of a trap against a fly to a robotic arm and used a smartphone app to control the trap. In experiments, the robotic robot grabbed a piece of wire half a millimeter in diameter. And when it is not tied to the robotic arm, the dismembered plant also picked up a weight of 1 gram that moves slowly.

One downside: the traps take hours to reopen, which means this bot would be better off making the catch on the first try.

Scientists controlled an Venus fly trap equipped with electrodes, using a smartphone to direct it to capture small objects such as a wire and a moving weight.

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