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Octopus arm reaches for soft-robot revolution

Friday, February 17, 2012 - 01:58

Feb. 17 - A soft-bodied robotic octopus arm has been created by scientists in Italy. The waterproof limb is designed to mimic an octopus appendage as a model for underwater rescue robots of the future. British surgeons believe the technology could also be applied to an endoscope that can perform surgery. Jim Drury reports.

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This robotic octopus arm isn't just a fancy gadget. It's part of a project to create a full-bodied synthetic sea creature which could be used to save people trapped underwater. The arm was built by scientists at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna near the coast of Tuscany. Professor Cecilia Laschi heads the team. SOUNDBITE (English) CECILIA LASCHI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF BIOROBOTICS AT THE SCUOLA SUPERIORE SANT'ANNA, SAYING: "The usual robotic vehicles that you use in the sea cannot usually go very close to the bottom. Instead the octopus could be very complementary and really go and explore the sea bottom." The waterproof arm is made from silicone and soft rubber wrapped around a steel cable. It mimics the limb of a real octopus, whose unusual, elastic musculature, enables it to squeeze into tight spots. SOUNDBITE (English) CECILIA LASCHI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF BIOROBOTICS AT THE SCUOLA SUPERIORE SANT'ANNA, SAYING: "We designed purposively (sic) this special braid which provides this flexibility but also the possibility to elongate the arm and shorten it.... It has suckers that are very important in the animal for grasping......So we put our artificial tactile sensors under the suckers so that the robot can perceive the contacts when grasping objects." Previous bio-inspired soft robots have been unable to grasp and manipulate objects and this new technology opens up many possibilities. British surgeons want to apply it to an endoscope for use in operations. The 13 million dollar Octopus Project is funded by the European Commission and involves scientists in both Italy and Jerusalem. The team hope to have a complete, eight-armed robot ready within a year. Jim Drury, Reuters

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Octopus arm reaches for soft-robot revolution

Friday, February 17, 2012 - 01:58