With its eight legs, massive head and unusual method of propelling itself through the water, it’s hard to mistake an octopus for any other aquatic creature. Yet that’s exactly what happened to schools of fish in the Aegean Sea recently when they followed what they thought was a live octopus but turned out to be a new robotic one.
The robotic octopus was developed by researchers at the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH) in Greece. This organization made news last year with a robotic octopus made with rigid plastic tentacles that propelled it underwater but was slow and not very octopus-like.
To achieve greater realism and speed, the researchers first replaced the stiff plastic legs with tentacles made from flexible silicon. That gave the robot a more realistic movement. To achieve greater speed, the team looked at the Octopus vulgaris, a species of cephalopod common to the Mediterranean. The vulgaris has a webbing between each tentacle where they connect to the body. This was recreated on the robot with sheets of silicon.
The new silicon-based robotic octopus blew the tentacles off of the old one, reaching speeds of up to 7 inches or 80 mm per second. Sure, a real octopus can hit 25 miles-an-hour, but that’s still impressive. And that’s not all. It also can crawl along the bottom in that funny octopus gait and pick up and carry a ball while swimming.
FORTH unveiled the video of the robot octopus and a paper on their research at the recent IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) 2014 in Chicago. The next step is to attach a camera to the robot to observe marine life, which in the video didn’t seem to notice it wasn’t real.