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I, for one, welcome our cephalopod-like robotic overlords.

Researchers at Harvard are working on a tentacle that mimics an octopus arm in order to add more range of motion to the standard robotic arm. The tentacle, which looks as gross as it sounds, can wrap around objects like cups and even fold paper.

From the researchers:

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.?

Imagine if a robot could do all that.

Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Beihang University 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,” said August Domel, a recent PhD graduate of Harvard and co-first author of the paper. “Our research is the first to quantify the tapering angles of the arms and the combined functions of bending and suction, which allows for a single small gripper to be used for a wide range of objects that would otherwise require the use of multiple grippers.”

The robot has multiple force settings and can pick up delicate things like eggs and phones. Interestingly, the suckers can even lift heavy objects, allowing it a unique range of motion with multiple types of objects.

“We mimicked the general structure and distribution of these suckers for our soft actuators,” said co-first author Zhexin Xie, a PhD student at Beihang University who co-authored the paper. “Although our design is much simpler than its biological counterpart, these vacuum-based biomimetic suckers can attach to almost any object.”?


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By John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.