A team of engineers from Beihang University and Tsinghua University in China has developed a haptically controlled robot arm that imitates an octopus arm’s behavior to grasp, lift, and carry objects on land and underwater. Described in a publication in the journal Science Robotics, the researchers discuss the design, functionality, and performance of the robot arm when tested in various scenarios. Over the years, scientists have observed and studied octopi’s behavior, as these marine creatures utilize their extensible arms with suction cups to manipulate objects, defend themselves, and move around the sea floor. Researchers have strived to develop robots that possess similar capabilities, and this team in China has successfully created a robot arm that mimics an octopus arm’s behavior.
The robot arm closely resembles a tentacle with the ability to flex, stretch, and retract as needed. By exerting vacuum pressure within the cups on its underside, it can securely grip objects by curling around them. To achieve this curling motion, the researchers programmed a mathematical propagation of the arm’s five segments. Together, these segments and their internal setup imitate the nervous system of a real octopus arm, with electrical signals transmitted via liquid metal wires to allow maximum flexibility.
The arm’s tips are equipped with suction cups and temperature sensors. Wireless control of the robot arm is facilitated by a connection to a glove. Using finger movement inside the glove, operators can control not just the curling of the arm, but also pitch, roll, and acceleration. To ensure precise control, the researchers incorporated a sensory feedback system. This feature enables operators to feel the sensation of what the robot arm touches through tiny suction cups integrated into the glove. The testing showed that this feedback system was accurate enough for operators to successfully identify and grasp objects, even with their eyes covered.
An important aspect of this research is that the octopus-inspired arm operates effectively in both wet and dry environments. This versatility means that the robot arm could be employed in various industries, such as underwater exploration, manufacturing, construction, or even healthcare. The ability to effortlessly switch between different environments makes it a promising tool for future applications.
The development of this haptically controlled octopus-inspired robot arm represents a significant advancement in robotics. By replicating the behavior and functionality of an octopus arm, researchers have introduced a new level of dexterity and adaptability to robotic arms. The potential applications for this technology are vast, and it could pave the way for further advancements in the field of robotics.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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