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Robot Octopus Takes to the Sea

Watch this cephalopod robot swimming happily in the Aegean Sea

2 min read
Robot Octopus Takes to the Sea
Image: FORTH

Early last year, we wrote up some betentacled research from Greece that explored what gaits were most effective at propelling a robotic octopus through water. The researchers commented that they were working on adding another physical feature flaunted by the biological version of the octopus: a web between their tentacles, which they hypothesized might help swimming speed or efficiency. Now the researchers report that the addition of a soft and supple silicone web has nearly doubled the speed of the roboctopus, and not satisfied with that, the scientists have also taught it to crawl, carry objects, and swim free in the Aegean Sea.

The video below has four parts to it: the first shows the difference between the robotic octopus swimming with just flexible arms, and swimming with just flexible arms in addition to a web. The most obvious difference is the speed: just over 100 millimeters per second with arms only, and up to 180 mm/s (or 0.5 body lengths per second) with the web. This is a significant increase, obviously, but what's more important is the overall cost of transport (CoT), which is a measure of the efficiency of the robot (specifically, the ratio of the energy put in over the resulting speed). The CoT for the arms-only version is 0.85, whereas the web drops that down to 0.62. So yeah, having that web in there is better in almost every way.

Also in the video below are three other clips that aren't related to the paper but that we thought were pretty cool. The first clip shows the robot octopus crawling along the ground, which is a very typical gait for most real octopi who aren't in a hurry, to which yours truly can attest, as he has had many different species of octopus flee from him. The second clip has the robot octopus swimming along while carrying an object (note the yellow ball held by two tentacles), because just like a real octopus, it can do that. And the third clip shows the robot octopus swimming happily out at sea, completely self contained, in the Aegean. It's very relaxing, and remarkably realistic:

With the ocean swimming vids, the researchers pointed out to us that there are a bunch of little fish following the robot octopus around quite happily. They suggest that the robot might therefore make a good platform with which to observe ocean life without disturbing it too much, as long as you're not trying to observe something that is often made a meal of by eight-armed cephalopods. 

"Multi-arm Robotic Swimming With Octopus-Inspired Compliant Web," by Michael Sfakiotakis, Asimina Kazakidi, Avgousta Chatzidaki, Theodoros Evdaimon, and Dimitris P. Tsakiris from the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH) in Greece, was presented last week at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) 2014 in Chicago.

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
Blue

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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