April 10, 2012 at 1:30 PM ET
A robotic octopus has begun to move, highlighting a future where our mechanical helpers (or overlords) are soft, smart, and flexible.
The project members posted on YouTube Tuesday a video of their robot that shows the machine scooting along the bottom of a lab pool.
It’s clear from the video that two of the tentacles are outfitted with shape memory alloy. That means they move when heated.
“The other six arms are silicone with a steel cable inside, and this steel cable is attached to a bunch of nylon cables, and by manipulating those nylon cables, the tentacle can be made to wiggle around and even grip things,” notes IEEE’s Automation blog.
Shape memory alloy is the same technology that allows the robotic jellyfish under development in the U.S. to swim.
Why do we need these robots? The Octopus project answers this way:
The animal-like robots offer the possibility from one side to take inspiration from nature to build up new advanced technologies, which operate with better performance in difficult or normally impracticable and unstructured environments.
From the other side, biomimetics robots give the possibility to biologists and neurophysiologists to study animal functions and behaviors with physical model, for new scientific results.
That means new tools to explore the oceans in greater detail, spy on enemies, and tickle our curiosity about the world around us. It also means robots are more than just clunky, metallic machines that bake cookies and scoop poop.
-- Via IEEE
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.