This Squishy Octopus Robot Snatches Up Fragile Objects with Ease

If you’ve ever played the claw game, you probably never thought about the scientific applications of that arcade game designed to take your money. But engineers at Harvard University must have. A team has created a soft tentacle robot based on the movements and grasping abilities of octopuses and jellyfish that looks a lot like the claw game. It entangles and ensnares its targets and does so without using too much pressure, which could break fragile objects. It looks a lot like a spaghetti monster, but at least it’s better than Rice University’s robotic gripper made out dead spiders. Unless you have a phobia of being entangled in pasta, check out the video below to see it in action. 

Each pink filament hanging down from the robot arm is a foot of hollow rubber tubing. It curls because one side is thicker than the other. The tentacles are individually relatively weak so they don’t grip anything too roughly. It doesn’t require targeting or algorithms. Rather, each tentacle tightens its grip and combined, they are able to lift heavy objects.

Close-up views of the pink tentacles attached to a robotic arm as they grip a succulent and a plastic stand
Harvard Microrobotics Lab/Harvard SEAS

We came across news of this spaghetti tentacle claw robot on Gizmodo. The researchers published their peer-review findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In a Harvard news release, the scientific team behind the octopus inspired robot says they expect it could be useful in applications like food production, medical procedures, and manufacturing fragile items.  

A robotic arm with soft pink tentacles that curl to pick up a black ring
Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

There are lots of other engineering projects where scientists use strategies in nature to design a better robot. For example, a recent paper introduced soft robots that wiggle like lizards and could help with search and rescue operations. There’s also ones that use the glow of bioluminescence instead of electronic light that requires batteries. Nature is the original engineer after all.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.

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