It’s not going to replace the claw that snatches prizes in the machine at your local arcade. But this tiny scotch tape gripper could one day provide a cheap and low-tech way for autonomous vehicles to snatch samples. And you thought duct tape was the king of adhesives.
The claw was created by doctoral student Manuel Ochoa from Purdue University who noticed the scotch tape he was using to collect pollen samples had the tendency to curl when exposed to humidity. It turns out the smooth side of the tape absorbs water and expands while the adhesive side repels it, causing the strip to curl.
So using a laser to reduce the tape to about a tenth of its original thickness, the Purdue researchers were able to turn it into a functioning claw that can actually be used to trap and hold onto drops of water and other minuscule samples. And by coating the tape in ferrous nanoparticles, the closed claws can be easily retrieved using nothing more than a magnet. Of course it will still be some time before we’re sending rovers made of scotch tape to Mars, but just imagine the money that NASA could save.