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Cthulhu comes to soft robotics with creepy OctopusGripper tentacle arm

As a creature with no skeleton that’s composed almost entirely of soft muscle, the octopus is pretty fascinating. It’s extremely agile and can squeeze through the smallest of cracks, turn sharply in any direction while moving swiftly through water and use the suckers on its tentacles to adhere to smooth and strongly grasp objects.

That wide array of skills makes it interesting to soft robotics researchers, who are constantly on the lookout for animals they can borrow from for inspiration. It’s no wonder, then, that German industrial automation company Festo turned to the octopus for its latest creation: The so-called OctopusGripper robot tentacle arm.

“The OctopusGripper is a grasping device inspired by the octopus’s tentacle,” Dr. Elias Knubben, head of corporate bionic projects at Festo, told Digital Trends. “A soft pneumatic structure of silicone bends when it is filled with air. Attached to this structure are both active and passive suction cups. Many differently-shaped objects can be grasped thanks to this combination of form-fitting gripping and vacuum adhesion. The bionic tentacles can be fitted to pneumatic robots, and are controlled using the Festo Motion Terminal.”

The OctopusGripper might look like the kind of thing H.P. Lovecraft may have dreamed up if he decided to become a soft robotics researcher instead of a horror fiction author but its creators assure us that one of its advantages — in addition to the aforementioned skills — is that it could work safely alongside human operators. As more and more jobs rely on close interaction between man and machine, such concerns become increasingly important.

At present, however, there is no launch date or price tag for the one-tentacled creation (we guess that technically makes it a “unumpus” instead of an octopus). Instead, it’s a concept that will be shown off at Germany’s Hannover Messe 2017 trade fair in April, demonstrating how Festo is staying at the cutting edge of research.

As Knubben said, it’s a way of “tracing new technologies, production processes, products or product ideas and for testing their market relevance in dialogue with customers. These future concepts will sustainably secure a leading edge in global competition, and facilitate the testing of future technologies.”

When there is a creepy sci-fi tentacle robot in every home, you know who to thank.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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