Developed Octopus Glove

Developed Octopus Glove

It’s a well-known fact that an octopus can easily grab anything that slips out of our hands in the water. In order to transfer the abilities of bizarre aquatic animals to humans, researchers have now developed a biologically inspired glove. It is equipped with suction cups whose holding force is automatically controlled by a system of sensors. Tests show that wet objects can be gripped safely and gently with the “Octa Glove”. The concept has many possible applications, say the developers.

Humans are land creatures, so to cope with the underwater world we need to equip ourselves with technology: scuba tanks allow us to breathe, neoprene suits keep us warm and goggles allow us to see. To overcome another weakness under water, however, so far there are only a few effective solutions: our hands generally have trouble grasping wet objects. However, this skill is in demand: rescue divers, underwater archaeologists and many other “aquatic craftsmen” must manipulate slippery objects or living beings. In order to keep them tight, the gripping pressure must often be greatly increased. But sensitive objects or living beings can of course be damaged.

Eight-arm models in sight

The research team led by Michael Bartlett of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg has therefore now set about developing a concept that should allow people to be more sensitive in the water. As is often the case in technology, scientists have taken inspiration from nature. Specifically, the focus was on the masters of grasping in Poseidon’s realm: octopuses. The key elements of their abilities are known to be suckers, which are under the control of a sophisticated muscular and nervous system. Once the wide outer rim of a suction cup makes contact with a surface, it activates the muscles in the cup-shaped area behind the rim. In this way, suction cups can provide negative pressure with adhesive force. “What’s interesting is that octopuses control their many suckers by processing information from various sensors. So the octopus combines grip technology, sensors and controls to manipulate underwater objects,” says Bartlett.

In order to transform the model into a glove concept, the researchers first designed a powerful system of suction cups: these are flexible rubber handles equipped with pneumatically activated flexible membranes. The developers have moved closer to the octopus version: the suction cup concept can be attached to flat and curved surfaces. After developing this adhesive system, the scientists took on the challenge of giving the glove sensitivity. To do this, they equipped it with a series of proximity sensors called micro-LIDAR. These optical sensors can detect the proximity of an object.

Artificial suction cup and nervous system

The suction cups and LIDAR were then connected via a microcontroller to link object detection to suction cup activation, mimicking the nervous and muscular systems of a squid. The scientists then integrated all the elements into a neoprene glove. There is a suction cup with sensors on each fingertip of this “Octa-glove”. “Just move your hand in the direction of an object and the glove then automatically takes over the gripping work: the electronics can quickly activate and release the grip. This allows you to grab wet or submerged objects without crushing them. And all this without the user having to press a single button,” says Bartlett.

The researchers were able to demonstrate this ability of their concept in a series of tests: the glove can be used to gently lift or grasp objects with multiple characteristics. There is no need to hold them: small objects can be gripped with just one finger using the suction cup – more units are then used for larger ones. “These abilities mimic the complex manipulation, perception, and control abilities of cephalopods,” says co-author Ravi Tutika of Virginia Tech. However, the scientists point out that further development work is needed to get ever closer to the highly complex performance of natural models. “Our approach is definitely a step in the right direction, but we still have a lot to learn about squid before we can achieve all of nature’s grasping abilities,” Tutika said.

Nevertheless, according to the scientists, an interesting potential for the technology is already emerging: an octopus glove could help water “craftsmen” to be more sensitive, to facilitate their work and to protect sensitive objects or living beings during manipulations. There could also be potential applications in robotics: Scientists say the octopus concept could also help technical systems – for example in healthcare or manufacturing – better grasp wet objects.

Source: Virginia Tech, Technical Article: Science Advances, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abq1905

Video © Virginia Tech

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