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 ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.