There’s nothing ‘normal’ about this octopus robot developed by researchers from the BioRobotics Institute at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, in Pisa, Italy and other labs from European and Israeli universities.
With eight flexible, animalistic arms, it can swim and scale along the bottom of the ocean, squeezing into tiny gaps to discover the underwater environment.
The Octopus Integrating Project seeks to break away from the norms of robotics and create a fully-working sea creature that is more flexible than most robots used for underwater missions.
It doesn’t have an internal or external skeleton like a land animal or sea creature, but its eight arms can bend and move anyway the controller would like them to, making it perfect for fitting in small spaces. It can use these arms to pick up objects and perform human-like functions, such as unscrewing a jar or snatching a camera from a photographer, as it did in a video on YouTube.
“Up until recently, robots have mainly been used in factories, where their rigid arms are well suited for the repetitive tasks at hand and the accuracy required,” researcher Cecilia Laschi explained.
“Now, however, roboticists want to put their creations to work in more unpredictable settings where conventional robots often run into trouble.”
The problem with developing such a robot, Laschi explained, is that they are much harder to control than machines with sturdy limbs. However, researchers overcame this by carefully studying the biological makeup of an octopus and then re-creating these using shape-memory alloys (SMAs).
“We fashioned SMA wires into springs and ran electric current through them to heat them, causing the springs to scrunch up in a way that imitates muscular contractions,” Laschi explained.
“By sending current through different sets of springs, we made the underwater arm bend at multiple points, shorten and elongate, even grasp things.”
The project’s next step is to develop the robot’s brain to react like an octopus too. At the moment, it’s a ‘dumb’ robot, having to be controlled by a human. Laschi hoped this will change as the team starts investigating into how an octopus’ brain works.