A glove with artificial suckers inspired by those found on octopuses allows people to securely grip delicate objects underwater, and the technology could be added to robots in future
13 July 2022
Artificial suckers inspired by those of an octopus could allow robots to delicately grasp objects that they are usually too clumsy to hold. The technology has been demonstrated in a wearable glove for humans, but researchers say similar devices could one day be used in machine limbs.
Octopuses have fine control of around 2000 suckers on their eight limbs, allowing them to dexterously pick up and manipulate objects. Michael Bartlett at Virginia Tech says this ability inspired him to create tiny rubber suckers tipped with flexible membranes that can be activated to create suction and stick to objects.
His team created a wearable glove with a sucker and a micro-LIDAR sensor on each fingertip. The sensor detects the proximity of objects, while a microcontroller triggers the sucker when it is close enough to stick to the object. The prototype simply holds on to an object for a set number of seconds before releasing it, but Bartlett says that a more sophisticated control mechanism could be used so that a robot or human operator could pick up, manipulate and release objects at will.
In tests, the glove was able to pick up a diverse range of objects underwater, including metal toys, a delicate hydrogel ball and the curved portion of a spoon. But the team says that the system is equally capable in air, unless an object is so rough that a proper seal can’t be formed by the sucker.
“The glove was a natural starting point for us. I thought it would be neat to have octopus-like abilities on your hand,” says Bartlett. “But we could also make a [robot] arm which is more like a tentacle – we could actually make it very biomimetic.”
Bartlett is keen to stress that suckers will not be a universal approach for all types of robotics, but says that they will offer unique abilities that fit certain applications well. He imagines that they could be used in manufacturing where fragile, wet or smooth objects are involved or even in some areas of healthcare.
Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abq1905
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