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As the subtitle implies, the average end-of-year celebration these days includes a little toy that you blow air into, and it unrolls out for maybe half a meter. It has occurred to me that something like that could be used in giving a machine a manipulating tentacle. The basic construction is a tube
with a piece of spring-steel all down its length. The steel is coiled up, forcing the tube to roll up (and the tube is built to roll up reasonably flat). If the tube was constructed of sturdy enough material, instead of paper like that New Year toy, and if the spring-steel was rather stronger, and if high-pressure air or even hydraulics was used, then this "tentacle" could be unrolled in the direction of some Object A by forcing fluid into its tube. Then, by releasing the pressure a little, the tube would start to roll up AND (a somewhat larger coil is needed, than the New Year toy has) wrap around Object A. The strength of this "wrap" would depend on the strength of the spring steel. Further release of the fluid pressure would cause Object A to be pulled toward the end of the tube into which pressure is applied. Object A would be rotated as this happens, of course.
If the tentacle was then pointed at a different direction, then by repressurizing the tube, it would again unroll, this time taking Object A to a new location.
Note that this Idea is Half-Baked because it offers no easy way to make the tentacle do anything other than roll straight out and straight back. Manipulating it from the middle of its length, to go off in various directions FROM its middle, is a thing that still needs thinking-about.
Automatic Blow-Out Staircase of Excitement
by hippo. [calum, Feb 13 2006]
They've done it!
News item! Almost certainly a different technology than that suggested here. [Vernon, May 08 2006, last modified Feb 12 2013]
A little similar, but only 1 DOF. [rmutt, Dec 12 2006]
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||Marvellous. This could be used to create a large, Victorianate contraption heavy with empty space, with the gaps traversed by criss-crossings of blow outs, darting from their housings to nudge levers back and forth.
||I think the tubes could be nested, with varying lengths, to control the bending. A tube in a tube in a tube, inner tube?
||Hey look! It's a [Vernon] idea that I can read, without giving up three times in the process! Horay!
||I imagine a dalekesque robot with tentacles shooting out at every angle, grabbing things and shooting them out again. Kinda link the tidy-up machine in the Cat in the Hat.
||This sounds like it could be really cool...Not very useful, perhaps, but cool.
||Ok, what if you put spoons on the ends of the tentacles. The spoons were somewhat similar to some ice-cream scoopers: they close up on top. The tentacle extends down into, say, molten chocolate, the spoon opens automatically at the end, closes as the tentacle retracts. You then grab the spoon-ball out of the center, open it, and enjoy your chocolate.
||Willy Wonka was exactly what I thought of while reading your idea. [+]