In a bid to detect unknown environments, a Chinese team created an octopus-inspired flexible robotic arm capable of sensing and manipulating objects in confined spaces and underwater.
According to the study published in the latest edition of Science Robotics, the robot allowed blindfolded human operators to guide its arm, using suction to pick up various objects, including a toy shark and a smooth metal ball, via a single-finger glove.
This new invention created by a team of researchers, led by Wen Li from Beihang University was inspired by the octopus, which whips its soft arms in a characteristic "bend propagation" motion to capture its prey with sensitive suckers.
A simple strategy like this can be used as a model for robotic grasping, controllable with a few inputs, as well as a highly deformable arm with sensing capabilities.
Wen's team integrated electronics and circuits into the robots while maintaining their deformability. The researchers presented a stretchable electronics-integrated soft octopus arm with 16 air-driven actuators and multiple degrees of freedom.
The robot's stretchable, liquid-metal-based electronic circuit can withstand uniaxial stretching of 710 percent and biaxial stretching of 270 percent to perform tasks autonomously in a confined environment, findings from the study showed.
The soft arm with two rows of sensory suction cups that connect with the wearer's finger can perform a reaching-grasping-withdrawing motion across a range of up to 1.5 times its original arm length, similar to the biological counterpart, the study revealed.
"This robotic prototype provides new prospects and development ideas for the future interactive applications of flexible robots, including medical auxiliary robots, seabed exploration robots, and bionic external organs," said Wen. (QNA)