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Robot Octopus Shows Off New Sculls

What tentacled swimming gait works best for a robotic octopus?

1 min read
Robot Octopus Shows Off New Sculls

Octopi are pro swimmers, thanks (at least in part) to that octet of arms they've got going on. They've adopted a particular swimming gait called sculling, which works great for them, but until they start publishing scientific papers, we're missing out on all of their gait testing data. Roboticists have had to start from scratch, and along the way, they've experimented with some swimming gaits that we've never seen a real octopus try and pull off. 

Of all of these gaits, the only one that octopi actually use is the sculling gait, when all eight arms move in synchrony. However, according to recent experiments, some of the artificial gaits produce much smoother movements, which may make more sense for octopus-inspired robots.

Towards the end of the video, rigid tentacles are replaced with undulating compliant arms that look alarmingly realistic. There are still some important bits missing, though: in addition to the pump jet motor that serves as an octopus' primary method of propulsion, real octopi also have a web that connects the bases of the tentacles to each other. Future research on this project will start taking a look at what effect the web has on propulsion, and how actively controlled, multi-joint arms can be used to come up with even more gaits. Robot octopi, here we come!

"Octopus-inspired Eight-arm Robotic Swimming by Sculling Movements," by Michael Sfakiotakis, Asimina Kazakidi, Nikolaos Pateromichelakis, and Dimitris P. Tsakiris from the Foundation for Research and Technology, in Hellas, Greece, was presented earlier this month at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Karlsruhe, Germany.

[ OCTOPUS Project ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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