Two-thirds of an octopus’s neurons are in its arms, meaning each arm literally has a mind of its own. Octopus arms can untie knots, open childproof bottles, and wrap around prey of any shape or size. The hundreds of suckers that cover their arms can form strong seals, even on rough surfaces underwater.
Researchers have developed an octopus-inspired soft robotic arm that can grip, move, and manipulate a wide range of objects. Its flexible, tapered design, complete with suction cups, gives the gripper a firm grasp on objects of all shapes, sizes, and textures — from eggs, to iPhones, to large exercise balls.
Most previous research on octopus-inspired robots focused either on mimicking the suction or the movement of the arm but not both. Tentacle Bot quantifies the tapering angles of the arms and the combined functions of bending and suction, allowing for a single, small gripper to be used for a wide range of objects that would otherwise require the use of multiple grippers.
The researchers began by studying the tapering angle of real octopus arms and quantifying which design for bending and grabbing objects would work best for a soft robot. Next, the team looked at the layout and structure of the suckers and incorporated them into the design.
The arm is controlled with two valves: one to apply pressure for bending the arm and one for a vacuum that engages the suckers. By changing the pressure and vacuum, the arm can attach to an object, wrap around it, carry it, and release it. The device was tested on many different objects including thin plastic sheets, coffee mugs, test tubes, eggs, and even live crabs. The tapering also allowed the arm to squeeze into confined spaces and retrieve objects.