The octopus is an absolutely wondrous creature. Its superior flexibility is due to the fact that it’s made up of almost nothing but pure muscle. With its agile swimming and ability to grip a whole assortment of objects in a form-fitting manner, the octopus serves as the perfect source for the future of soft robotics.
Which is why robotics company Festo, in cooperation with the School of Mechanical Engineering and Automation at Beihang University (BUAA), has developed a new robot with a grip akin to our dear cephalopods – the OctopusGripper! Created under Festo’s Bionic Learning Network, the OctopusGripper is scaled at 22cm long and weighs only 190 grams. Despite this, however, with its 10 passive suction cups and 8 active suction cups, the robot is able to provide a working pressure of 29 psi.
Normally, in an industrial setting, companies must actively replace varying grippers to accommodate different workpieces. With the OctopusGripper, however, with its pneumatically-controlled soft silicone structure, its tentacle is capable of gripping nearly any object thrown its way using a combination of force fitting and vacuum. And because of its soft structure, made up of molded silicone, the robot is perfectly safe to humans in the workplace.
Five to ten years from now, every major factory throughout the developed region will be equipped with soft robotics, like the OctopusGripper. They’ll quickly replace all of the grippers currently used by factory workers, increasing efficiency, productivity, and safety as a result. And given the accelerating adaptation of nature to our robotic innovations, we should expect many other varying designs of robots to be integrated across nearly every known industry.
There is also a good possibility that we’ll begin seeing soft robots being used in areas of service like the fire department. If anyone were to be trapped inside of a burning building, rather than risking another person’s life to save another, the department will deploy soft robots instead. Like an actual octopus, the OctopusGripper would be able to quickly squeeze through tight spaces and grip any objects which might stand between it and those barricaded inside of the burning building.
“Festo presents a bionic gripper called the OctopusGripper, which is derived from an octopus tentacle. Not only can the flexible silicone structure grip softly and securely – it also fulfils the strict criteria of a soft robotics component.”
Thirty to fifty years from now, soft robots will be everywhere. In fact, given the likely advancements in this growing industry, the structure of these robots will appear not too dissimilar to that of organic beings. Whether they take the form of humanoids or various other nonhuman animals, we will find it rather difficult in differentiating between biological and machine.
Every industry throughout society will be equipped with soft robots. From factories and naval ships to fire departments and the police force, the integration of these robots will be absolutely crucial in maintaining our (then) way of life with relative ease. We’ll come to relate to them in many ways, just as many humans have come to relate to other organic creatures on this planet today.
Photo Credit: Festo