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Robot Octopus Points the Way to Soft Robotics With Eight Wiggly Arms


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Jennie Hill, a professor at the BioRobotics Institute at the Scuola Superiore SantAnna, in Pisa, Italy, with the octo-bot.

Jennie Hill, a professor at the BioRobotics Institute at the Scuola Superiore SantAnna, in Pisa, Italy, shows off the octo-bot.

Credit: Jennie Hills/London Science Museum

Several labs from European and Israeli universities came together in 2009 to build a robot replica of an octopus. The researchers wanted to demonstrate the many advantages of a machine that could flex and squish as needed.

For the Octopus Integrating Project, the team constructed a prototype arm using shape-memory alloy springs to stand in for the longitudinal and transverse muscles found in the limbs of a real octopus, and sent current through different sets of springs to make the underwater arm bend at multiple points, shorten, elongate, and grasp objects.

The researchers developed mathematical models to test various aspects of the arm's design, added hydrodynamic factors, considered the texture and composition of the surfaces over which the octo-bot would crawl, used an evolutionary algorithm to explore movement, and then identified an arrangement that would generate the correct amount of propulsive force to produce the desired crawling movement.

The octo-bot proved simple to control and could mimic the four-step crawling observed in the real animal. As part of a related project called PoseiDrone in 2012, a prototype was tossed into the Mediterranean Sea, where it responded accurately to user commands.

From IEEE Spectrum
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