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Grab hold of Harvard researchers' new Kraken-like robotic tentacle

By Jeff Spry

If you've ever envisioned yourself equipped with rubbery, octopus-like tentacles to manipulate, move, grip, and release a wide range of objects (and let's face it, who hasn't?), then your day has arrived!

A brain-flexing team of researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Beihang University has recently designed a soft Cthulhu-inspired arm that might have a variety of real-world applications, especially for those with impaired motor functions or physical handicaps.

By imitating the concentration and layout of actual octopus suction cups, this handy tool has far-reaching potential for the development of an entirely new range of advanced robotic actuators employed in medical, engineering, manufacturing, and industrial fields.

Details and findings for their creature-based robo-tentacle were published in the online journal Soft Robotics

“Most previous research on octopus-inspired robots focused either on mimicking the suction or the movement of the arm, but not both,” explained co-author August Domel, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University and former graduate student at the Wyss Institute and Harvard. “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.”

Bio-inspired soft robot design is a burgeoning international field, and here scientists took advantage of the tapered shape of real octopus arms to formulate the most efficient bendable arrangement for touching, grasping, and holding objects like walnuts, coffee cups, eggs, cell phones, an exercise ball, and even a live crab!


“The results from our study not only provide new insights into the creation of next-generation soft robotic actuators for gripping a wide range of morphologically diverse objects, but also contribute to our understanding of the functional significance of arm taper angle variability across octopus species,” said the research paper's senior co-author Katia Bertoldi, Ph.D., an associate faculty member of the Wyss Institute.

How do you like the Harvard team's handy new device, and can you see it being a hit consumer product?

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