Scientists took inspiration from a marine animal, namely the octopus, to develop a prototype robot.
The octo-bot is a soft-bodied, tentacled wonder that is able not only to propel itself underwater, but also to wedge its body between rocks into tiny nooks and corners.
The octo-bot is the brainchild of the BioRobotics Institute at Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, Italy, and is an achievement for soft robotics, a relatively new field that has as its focus the development of squishy robots.
The squishy robot from the Italian researchers has eight wiggly arms that are bendable. The tentacles can bend in any possible direction, making it extremely realistic.
To develop the aquatic bot, the researchers took inspiration from the octopus. They zoned in on the octopus as its movements did not require ample use of brain power. The creature does not depend on instructions or cues from the central nervous system; rather, several of its movements occur quite spontaneously. This is largely due to the interaction of an octopus' body with the environment it is in.
This concept, referred to by artificial intelligence researchers as embodied intelligence, allowed the team to craft soft robots that are capable of a variety of activities, just like the real octopus. The octo-bot can not only crawl on the seabed, but it can also swim and clasp objects with ease.
The swimming abilities of the octo-bot were imparted using morphological computing. The key feature was the bot's head area or mantle.
The robot is part of a program that started in 2009 and was designed to be an octopus replica. The PoseiDrone prototype, named after a related project in 2012, was tested earlier this year in the Mediterranean sea. The team discovered that the prototype bot was able not only to draw but also expel liquid.
The biomimicry deployed by the team, coupled with smart controlling mechanisms and soft robotic techniques, enables the PoseiDrone prototype to function realistically in alien conditions.
"We were proud to watch our robot deal handily with the unpredictable surfaces, waves and currents it encountered, and at the conclusion of our experiments we found a suitable retirement for this exemplary specimen," revealed Cecilia Laschi, a professor at the BioRobotics Institute and one of the researchers.
For those wondering about the future of the PoseiDrone robot, Laschi reveals that the octo-bot will soon be kept in a tank at an aquarium in Livorno, Italy. Did we mention that it will be beside a real octopus?
Check out the video of the octopus-inspired robot below.