I, octobot

Back in March, I blogged about the discovery of the first bipedal octopus — a cephalopod that tucked six of its legs up into a ball and walked on its remaining two like a human, apparently to psych out its predators. Apparently one of the discoverers was Bob Full, a roboticist famous for studying the gaits of everything from cockroaches to humans, in an attempt to perfect robotic walking.

Now, according to a story in the BBC, the bipedal octopi are inspiring Full to examine the idea of using stretchy octopus arms as a paradigm for robotics. The octobot would have no rigid form at all — it’d be a series of connected artificial muscles that can expand or contract in unison. Thus, it could perform some of the classic tricks of our invertebrate friends:

With no hard parts, the creature can squeeze through tiny spaces.

“That’s the advantage of soft robotics,” he added.

“Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to function as a search and rescue robot, to be able to go into areas - after an earthquake, after a car accident, during a fire - and move into spaces that no other robot could get into.”

To recap: The first hydrostatically bipedal octopus ever discovered is now inspiring the design of cephalopodic robotics. Man, I can now die happy after having written that sentence.

(Thanks to John T. Unger for this one! I also totally stole the title to this entry from Grist Magazine.)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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