CEPHALOPOD UPRISING

The future of soft robotics: a 3D-printed, farting, gummy octopus

Even as some of us brace for the cephalopod uprising, octopuses have became the favorite animals of robotic engineers.

And an adorable palm-sized octopus-robot, made by a group of Harvard researchers, might be the closest robots have ever gotten to the real eight-armed creature of the sea. It’s completely squishy, powered by fluids, and can move on its own. The blueprint of the slippery bot was published Wednesday (24 Aug.) in Nature.

The latest addition to a growing robot menagerie, the Octobot was created by pouring liquid silicone into an octopus-shaped mold and 3D-printing the legs. The tiny robot doesn’t require any hard parts, such as batteries or circuits, and its tentacles are powered by gas.

The researchers planted a soft controller in the Octobot’s body that shunts liquid hydrogen peroxide through platinum reaction chambers, turning the fluid fuel to oxygen gas and water vapor. The gas pumps up the legs though tiny channels running from the body, making the gummy tentacles twitch—a big step in soft robotics.

To avoid all that gas accumulating and causing an ugly bursting, the Octopod solves the gassy problem just like us fleshy humans: by farting. The team fitted the robot with small orifices, so the gas inflating the arms can escape.

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