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Four years ago, German engineering firm Festo came up with a concept for a robotic arm. Somewhere between an iron snake, a mechanical claw, and a sci-fi tentacle, the Bionic Handling Assistant is functionally most similar to an elephant’s trunk.

But what should a robot arm grab? For inspiration about learning what to do with hands, the scientists turned to babies.

The arm remembers movements that have been guided by a researcher, much like how a baby grabbing onto a parent’s finger and will let his arm be moved when the adult moves. The programming behind the robotic trunk teaches it to remember positions that worked for grabbing.

The New Scientist story on a visit to the Festo lab is well worth a read.

Here’s hoping they never develop a taste for blood like the sciencey tentacle-arms of Spiderman 2’s Doctor Octopus.

Watch a video of the trunk below:

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