The FlexShapeGripper can hold multiple objects at once, as inspired by a reptile’s anatomy.

This robot doesn’t have any mechanical hands, fingers or hidden magnets. Yet it can pick up anything from metal ball bearings to coffee mugs. The reason for its dexterity? It mimics a chameleon’s sticky tongue.

The FlexShapeGripper, developed by the company Festo in collaboration with the University of Oslo, is made of a silicon bulb that’s filled with pressurized air and water, which resembles a small water balloon. As different amounts of liquids and gas are pumped into the gripper, it’s able to alter shape and suction its hold on a variety of objects, Gizmodo reported. So just as a chameleon’s tongue is able to uncoil and latch onto insects, the FlexShapeGripper operates in a similar way — though the objects it seeks to grip are more inanimate in nature.

 

       

According to Festo’s website, the most practical application for the device will likely be in factory settings since it doesn’t require manual conversion to pick up objects of varying sizes or shapes and can pick up several items at once. Also, since additional power isn’t needed to hold the objects, it offers a more energy-efficient alternative that could mean bigger cost savings for factories in the future. Apart from factories, Festo also sees potential in adding the technology to service robots.

The FlexShapeGripper isn’t Festo’s first foray into technological designs inspired by the animal kingdom, Gizmag reported. The company has also developed eMotionButterflies — butterfly-like devices that can communicate with one another while avoiding collisions — as well as BionicANTS, which work collectively to complete various tasks.

Learn more about the FlexShapeGripper at Festo’s website and in the video below: