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$13 Million Underwater Rescue Project

A soft-bodied robotic octopus arm has been created by scientists in Italy. The waterproof limb is designed to mimic an octopus appendage as a model for underwater rescue robots of the future


Scientists in Italy are embarking on a 13 million dollar science project to create a robotic Octopus tentacle that can squeeze into tight spots and operate to free people trapped underwater. This tentacle is hoped to be developed into a full bodied robot that can easily free people and be operated in ways that other human divers can’t. It is slated to be finished by the end of this year. What is special about this robot is the flexibility that the tentacle allows, while also having enough power to be able to shift heavy materials to free trapped people.

‘We designed this special braid which provides this flexibility but also the possibility to elongate the arm and shorten it. It has suckers that are very important in the animal for grasping……So we put our artificial tactile sensors under the suckers so that the robot can perceive contact when grasping objects,” says Professor Cecilia Laschi, who heads the team.

The waterproof arm is made from silicone wrapped around a steel cable. The finished project is hoped to be a fully functional eight-armed robot at the end of this year. I think that this is a great project and I’m glad that scientists are starting to model the future of technology after animals that already have some of these capabilities. I think that the animals here on Earth have a lot that we as humans can learn from and incorporate into our daily lives and technological advances, such as these robotic maneuvers modeled after Octopus arms. Observing animals is a great idea to gain inspiration and insight into how we can advance our lives too.

  1. Ben Harrison
    February 21, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Reading this reminded me of an article I read about scientists trying to mimic the feet of a Gecko. It seems that as we move forward in science, we realise that the answers tend to be around us. This seems a bit perplexing at first, how could us advancing in science end up with us turning to what has always been around? Well when I think about it, it makes sense. Nature has been here for what, 6 billion years? It has had an unbelievable amount of time to adapt and perfect itself. Meanwhile, science is just catching up, we are learning from these animals who have been perfecting themselves for ages.

    Here is the article: http://news.discovery.com/tech/gecko-inspired-robot-111101.html

  2. February 21, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Even though duplicating natures into technology are extremely difficult task, it definitely adds improvement in our life. We can always try and learn from the nature and other organism by simply asking why. Why are the rooms in the bee hive hexagonal shapes? Well, because the shape makes efficient use of space and building materials. This can be explained thorough geometry, and mathematic but this proves that nature already “know” the answer in term of efficiency.
    I really admire nature’s efficiency and practicality of their science, and most importantly they do not kill themselves with their own ability. For example, snakes do not die of their own poisons, and spiders never gets caught on its web. Well in our case, our science is killing us.

    My concerns are that our actions and our existence on this planet are pushing these valuable creatures into extinction.

  3. February 21, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Replicating certain skills of animals is a unique and difficult task that could prove to be effective or disastrous. Using this robotic octopus could definitely prove advantageous when divers are unable to rescue victims, but what if a good intention turns into a fatal mistake. Technology does not have the intuition and mindset of a human being, but it does have the fallibility of a human. What if the machine explodes or experiences a glitch while in the midst of a rescue – will a diver be accompanying the machine or is it strictly a solo operation? Technology is capricious and although employing technology seems useful and incredibly effective, the negative side of technology must also be considered. If the machine were foolproof and utterly indestructible, I would fully support its purpose in rescue missions, but the thought of being rescued by a robot seems daunting to me. Although technology definitely makes our life easier, I do not believe people should substitute technology for humanity. Ultimately, many people will be limited in some tasks due to their humanity, but that is the point of human nature. People are not meant to be infallible, yet we are seduced by the power and dominance technology yields over others. Such power is making it harder for people to discern who or what is ultimately in control and remember that they are not as omnipotent and invincible as they believe.

  4. February 22, 2012 at 6:19 am

    I think what is really important about technology is that it can be used in situations where human capacity isn’t enough. For example, the octopus “rescue arm” mentioned in the post can help people in underwater rescues where the pressure is too much for human divers to go. When it comes to life-saving situations such as a rescue mission, this type of technology can save lives of both the rescuers and rescue-ees. Also, the fact that the arm is modeled from nature is a great concept that I think scientists should consider more often. As the author said, nature already olds the key to many of the questions we use science to answer. By looking at nature’s most efficient tools and processes, we can model our science to be more efficient.

  5. HK
    February 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    I think modeling technology from nature is fascinating and makes a lot of sense, especially in robotics. When trying to make a sentient, life-like machine, why not start with existing life? Imitation can be easier than reinvention. But in response to the statement made by thetwinsopinions that the octopus robot could only be trusted if it were “foolproof and utterly indestructible”, humans themselves are neither foolproof nor indestructible. If a rescuer was destroyed in an attempt to save someone, wouldn’t you rather it be a machine than a person? Trusting humans over robots is somewhat self-contradicting. Humans make the robots so they can be trusted as much as you trust humans.

  6. johnwmanning
    February 27, 2012 at 3:15 am

    I agree with HK that that it is easier to imitate than it is to reinvent. When it comes to the type of science that is mentioned in the article, it makes sense to steal from nature. As Ben stated, nature has been adapting and evolving for billions of years, so why not copy from a trait that has survived the test of time. Using the octopus arm in places where humans can’t go is exciting. If the rescue arm can deliver as promised, it will be interesting to see what other advances in science will come from nature.

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