Robotic Octopus Takes First Betentacled Steps

The European Octopus Project has stuck eight soft tentacles together to make a walking roboctopus

2 min read
Robotic Octopus Takes First Betentacled Steps

The holy grail of the whole soft robotics initiative that many research groups are so interested in is, arguably, the octopus. Anyone who has ever seen an octopus in action can understand why: they're capable of some extraordinary maneuvers, thanks to relatively large brains, very fine motor control, and a near-total lack of bones. The Octopus Project is a European, er, project that's working on "investigating and understanding the principles that give rise to the octopus sensory-motor capabilities and incorporating them in new design approaches," and their newest design approach is this fully mobile roboctopus with eight soft tentacles.

The Octopus Project posted this video to their YouTube channel with zero explanation, but we do know a couple things about it. First, those big tentacles at the front are labeled as "SMA Arms," which means that they're actuated by a shape-memory alloy that changes is length when heated, no servos or anything necessary. The other six arms are silicone with a steel cable inside, and this steel cable is attached to a bunch of nylon cables, and by manipulating those nylon cables, the tentacle can be made to wiggle around and even grip things. Here's a vid from earlier this year showing some of that:

The ultimate goal for this project is a little bit vague:

Having no rigid structures, OCTOPUS will be the world's first entirely soft robot, with eight flexible arms, able to reach impracticable places and simultaneously showing manipulation capability, which could open up new scenarios for marine exploration and underwater rescue. 

And by "rescue," they obviously mean "military applications." While the roboctopus isn't quite at the "no rigid structures" place yet, it's the tentacles that are the hard part, since once you get those out of the way, there isn't really that much left to an octopus, is there?

[ Octopus Project ]

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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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