German industrial automation company Festo has created a number of animal-inspired robots in the past, such as kangaroos, herring gulls, ants, and a gripper that mimics the tongue of a chameleon. The latest addition to its robot zoo comes in the form of an arm designed in the shape of an octopus tentacle: the OctopusGripper.
While it looks a little like something from a specialist Manga animation, the device is a pretty amazing piece of kit. It’s built from soft silicon and a special 3D textile knitted fabric that covers the interior bellow structures, which are filled with compressed air to control the arm’s movements. There’s also some passive and vacuum-powered suction cups to grip objects securely.
“If compressed air is applied to it, the tentacle bends inwards and can wrap around the respective item being gripped in a form-fitting and gentle manner,” Festo explains.
Before you get any ideas about creating a Doctor Octopus-style supervillain machine, the arms have been specially designed to work safely alongside people. Unlike traditional pneumatic robot arms found in factories, which usually have to be secured behind cages, the OctopusGripper is flexible enough so that any collisions with humans should be absorbed by the machine. Recently, a factory robot was blamed for the death of a Michigan woman; it’s hoped that Festo’s invention could help prevent similar tragedies.
"Its safe structure already meets the strict criteria of a soft robotics component and guarantees a safe working relationship with people," the company writes. "Even in the event of a collision, they are harmless and do not have to be shielded from the worker like conventional factory robots."