Novel Design Principles and Technologies for a new Generation of High Dexterity Soft-Bodied Robots inspired by the Morphology and Behaviour of the Octopus

The octopus is a marine invertebrate with amazing motion control capabilities and intelligent behaviors. Its completely soft body has no internal or external skeleton and shows interesting characteristics from an engineering viewpoint. The eight soft tentacles of the octopus are highly dexterous and can bend at any point and to any directions along the arms, thus contain infinite number of degrees of freedom (DOFs). The animal can control its totally soft arms for reaching, catching, precise point-to-point fetching, crawling, swimming, and even walking. The octopus represents a conclusive biological demonstration of how effective behavior in the real world is tightly related to the morphology of the body.

The grand challenge of the OCTOPUS IP (Integrating Project) is investigating and understanding the principles that give rise to the octopus sensory-motor control capabilities and incorporating them in new design approaches and robotics technologies to build an embodied artifact, based broadly on the anatomy of the 8-arm body of an octopus, and with similar performance in water, in terms of dexterity, speed, control, flexibility, and applicability.

The new technologies expected to result from the IP concern actuation (soft actuators), sensing (distributed flexible tactile sensors), control, and robot architectures (distributed control, coordination of many DoFs), materials (variable stiffness), mechanisms (soft-bodied hydrostat structures), kinematics models.

Using simple periodic motions, we showed that reservoir computing can be used to achieving behavior switching in a soft robotic arm.

The first complete roboitc octopus (Tako V). It is the combination of Tako IV and two Tako II. Those two big tentacles at the front are used as manipulators and are actuated by shape-memory alloys (SMAs) that change their lengths when applying voltages.