Octopus-Inspired Robots Can Grasp, Crawl, and Swim

Soft electronics and smart control mechanisms help these robots get a better grip on a complex world

Most of today’s robots only function well in highly structured environments, like factory assembly lines. But thanks to some clever biomimicry, we might soon be seeing robots with a more flexible approach.

To build their squishy aquatic robots, a team of researchers in Italy drew inspiration from the octopus. The animal’s movements don’t require a lot of brainpower. Rather than relying on top-down instructions from the central nervous system, many of an octopus’s movements happen almost spontaneously–the result of the physical interplay between the animal’s body and its surrounding environment.

By utilizing this strategy, called embodied intelligence, the team created soft robots that could grasp objects, crawl along the seafloor, and even swim–with a lot less computing power than you might imagine. Find out how they work in this video.

Feature article coming soon: "With Eight Wiggly Arms, a Robot Octopus Points the Way to Soft Robotics"