The octopus is one of those cephalopods with seeming superpowers. It can communicate using the chromatophores under its skin; it can wriggle into impossibly small places; and it can open jars like a boss. And now engineers say the next big frontier will be "soft robotics" that could result in cyborg octopuses.

Illustration by benttibisson


Over at Scientific American, Katherine Harmon describes the soft robotics revolution:

Our rigid robotics have come a long way since mid-20th-century Jetsonlike imaginings. Many are now capable of extremely nuanced tasks and coordinated efforts, including running like a cheetah. But they also hold us back from expanding far outside of specialized mechanical tasks—and into the everyday human world, such as in the operating room or even functioning as second skins. [Carniegie Mellon roboticist Carmel Majidi] envisions a world where next-gen robots are “elastically soft and capable of safely interacting with humans or navigating through tightly constrained environments.”

And this softness is not just a plush covering. A purely soft robot is, like an octopus, almost entirely flexible. That means no traditional microprocessors or servomotors. As Carmel noted: like an octopus, “a soft robot must be elastically deformable and capable of maneuvering through confined spaces without inducing damaging internal pressures and stress concentrations.”

So far, we haven't gotten very far with these robots — one lab did manage to produce a tentacle (see video below) but not much else.


I love the idea that we need these octopus robots in order to make it easier for robots to interact with humans. We all love cephalopods!

Read more at Scientific American