August 27, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Toy Octopus Is Far from the Living Reality

The news media are celebrating an autonomous soft robot shaped like an octopus. It has a lot to learn from its living counterpart.

Humans can be clever. The latest soft robot, able to move without batteries, is generating a lot of interest.

  • Robotics: Generation soft (Nature): “Meet the octobot, the first robot to be made entirely from soft materials,” two Italian scientists write. “Powered by a chemical reaction and controlled by a fluidic logic circuit, it heralds a generation of soft robots that might surpass conventional machines.”
  • Pneumatic octopus is a first for soft robotics (BBC News): Look what it can do with its pneumatic activators. Jonathan Webb says, “These movements aren’t good enough, just yet, to send the octobot out for a stroll; instead it sits in one place and executes a very slow, eight-legged can-can.
  • Soft robot octopus uses chemical fuel gut to explore untethered (New Scientist): Paul Marks writes, “Squashy and soft, this robot is different from its technological ancestors – Octobot runs without a power cable or rigid electronics, moving autonomously – if still clumsily – through the world.”
  • Beyond Terminator: squishy ‘octobot’ heralds new era of soft robotics (Nature). Helen Shen wants us to be impressed. “A squishy octopus-shaped machine less than 2 centimetres tall is making waves in the field of soft robotics.” Schwarzenegger it ain’t.

Impressive as the achievement is for engineers (see their paper in Nature), readers may notice a few skills missing:

  • Ability to swim fast.
  • Ability to mimic other sea creatures.
  • Ability to squirt ink to deter predators.
  • Having tentacles with suckers able to grab things.
  • Independently-programmable flexible tentacles that are coordinated by the brain.
  • Skin that can turn on instant camouflage.
  • Ability to lay eggs and reproduce itself.

Maybe those features will be added in v. 2,205,015,814 a few million years from now.

Biomimetics teaches us that nature’s designs vastly exceed human capabilities. Just the ability to reproduce is mind-boggling.


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