Octopus tentacles are pretty great looking, and they're functional, too. Everyone wants a piece of this creepily awesome natural design. But the coolest part of an octopus tentacle, its suction cups, has been difficult to replicate in robotic models.
A group of scientists has made progress, though, developing a type of robotic sucker that could actually help robots grip objects in an uncontrolled environment. Previous research focused on generating suction from an air pump connected to a series of suckers. But in this strategy, all the suction cups had to be engaged at once or air would leak out and weaken the seal on the suckers that were actively gripping something.
The new design, produced by researchers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the Edgewood Chemical Biological centre and the University of Maryland, is more targeted so only suckers touching something are engaged. The system still uses an air-pump, but each suction cup also includes a plug that is only open and generating pressure when a sucker makes contact with something.
The suction cups are manufactured on a multi-material 3-D printer and currently come in three sizes, ranging from a shirt button to a slice of cucumber. Hopefully they will help robot grip technology take hold. Yup, it had to happen. [Scientific American via DVICE]