An octopus-inspired robotic arm, created by European scientists, is intended to one day save lives, besides navigating underwater and grasping objects.
"What we want to copy is not just being soft, but it's being soft and having the capability of controlling the stiffness," Discovery News quoted Cecilia Laschi, an associate professor of biorobotics at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa who is working on the robot, as saying.
An octopus has a musculature that's unusual in nature and typically only found in tongues and elephant trunks. The European team studied the octopus' movement and found that in order to push, the arms shorten and elongate.
Their robotic prototype is approximately 17 inches long and modelled after a real octopus that inhabits the Mediterranean. The waterproof arm is made from silicone and embedded with a steel cable anchored to a set of nylon cables. By manipulating the cable, the arm can grasp objects. There's enough friction from the silicone exterior that sucker-like components weren't needed.
The researchers plan to complete a full body robotic octopus with eight arms before the project deadline in January 2013.
Laschi said that a team of British surgeons are interested in applying their technology to an endoscope that turns from a soft tool into a hard one that can perform surgery.
"[T]he applications we envisage are all the applications where you send the robot into very small spaces for exploration tasks but also for rescue under debris," Laschi said. A soft octopus-like robot could be controlled remotely to retrieve people in a difficult underwater environment," she added.
The creation has been published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.