Laser-Cut Scotch Tape Makes A Tiny Gripping Robotic Claw

The holiday staple/bane of gift wrappers' existence is now a water-collecting gripper.

Scotch tape is indispensable this time of year, even for the least-skilled gift wrappers among us. Now it may have another use that lasts well beyond the wrapping paper frenzy: a shape-changing gripper.

It turns out Scotch tape curls up when exposed to humidity, so it can be used as a water-grabbing claw. This could be used to monitor water quality, according to the scientists at Purdue who developed them. The cellulose-acetate side, the slick clear film you rub with your finger, is water-absorbent. The adhesive side you stick on wrapping paper is water-repellent. So when one side absorbs water, it expands while the other side remains the same. The result is a curled-up piece of tape.

Researchers led by biomedical engineering professor Babak Ziaie machined some Scotch tape so it was one-tenth of its original thickness and sliced up the pieces into four slender fingers. These were attached to a small handle that could be used to immerse the whole thing in water. They can also be deployed without a handle, curling up into tape-balls. The gripper would close in on a sample and pick it up, like a claw in one of those stuffed toy arcade games. The researchers even added some magnetic particles to the tape, so they could be retrieved with a simple magnet.

Purdue doctoral candidate Manuel Ochoa came up with this idea when he was using Scotch tape for another improvised task: Picking up pollen grains. He noticed the tape curled in response to moisture. Ochoa and his colleagues were scheduled to present their findings at a Materials Research Society meeting in Boston this week.