One day a giant robotic octopus might save your life. That's one of the applications a team of European scientists thinks its robotic octopus could have beyond navigating underwater and grasping objects. Recently they took the first step by creating a robotic octopus arm.
"What we want to copy is not just being soft, but it's being soft and having the capability of controlling the stiffness," said Cecilia Laschi, an associate professor of biorobotics at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa who is working on the robot.
The arm is part of a larger interdisciplinary European project funded by the European Commission to create a functional full-body octopus robot. The team includes Laschi's colleagues at the BioRobotics Institute Paolo Dario, Michele Giorelli, and Marcello Calisti, as well as Binyamin Hochner of Hebrew University and Barbara Mazzolai at the Center for Micro-BioRobotics in Pontedera, Italy.
Creating functional soft robots is an enormous challenge because most engineering is based on rigid materials, while the technologies for building compliant structures are not as well developed. Other bio-inspired soft robots have locomotion, but they can't grasp and manipulate objects like an octopus, Laschi said.