It is a well known fact that an octopus can easily grab anything that slips out of our hands in the water. To transfer the abilities of bizarre aquatic animals to humans, researchers have now developed biologically inspired gloves. It is equipped with suction cups whose holding power is automatically controlled by a sensor system. Tests show that wet objects can be grabbed safely and gently with an “octa-glove”. Developers say the concept has many potential applications.
Humans are land creatures, so to cope in the underwater world, we have to equip ourselves with technology: scuba tanks allow us to breathe, neoprene suits keep us warm and goggles enable us to see. Huh. There is, however, hardly any effective solution until now to compensate for another weakness underwater: Our hands usually have difficulty grasping wet objects. However, this ability is in demand: rescue divers, underwater archaeologists and many other “aquatic craftsmen” have to handle slippery objects or living creatures. To hold them tightly, the grip pressure often has to be greatly increased. But sentient objects or living beings can certainly be damaged.
Eight-armed role model in sight
The research team, led by Michael Bartlett from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, has now dedicated itself to developing a concept that should enable people to be more sensitive in water. As is often the case in technology, scientists were inspired by nature. In particular, the kingdom of Poseidon focused on the lord of Scrooge: the octopus. Key elements of their abilities are known as suction cups, which are under the control of a sophisticated muscular and nervous system. After the wide outer rim of a suction cup makes contact with a surface, doing so activates muscles in the cupped area behind the rim. In this way, the suction cups can provide negative pressure along with the adhesive force. “Interestingly, octopuses control their many suction cups by processing information from various sensors. So octopuses combine adhesion technology, sensors, and control to manipulate underwater objects,” says Bartlett.
To turn the model into a glove concept, the researchers first designed a powerful suction cup system: these are flexible rubber handles equipped with soft membranes that can be actuated pneumatically. The developers came very close to the Octopus version: the suction cup concept can be attached to flat and curved surfaces. After developing this adhesive system, scientists addressed the challenge of sensitivity to gloves. To do this, they equipped it with a series of so-called micro-lidar proximity sensors. These optical sensors can detect how close an object is.
artificial suction cup and nervous system
The suction cup and LIDAR were then connected via a microcontroller to link object detection to the activation of the suction cup, mimicking the neural and muscular system of a squid. The scientists then integrated all the elements into a neoprene glove. On each of the fingers of this “octa-glove” there is a suction cup with a sensor. “All you have to do is move your hand in the direction of an object and the glove then automatically takes over the gripping task: The electronics can activate quickly and release the adhesion. This allows you to grab wet or submerged objects without crushing them. And all without the user pressing a single button,” Bartlett explains.
The researchers were able to demonstrate this ability of their concept in a series of tests: Gloves can be used to gently lift or hold objects with many different characteristics. They don’t necessarily have to be held in place: Small objects can be picked up with just one finger using suction cups – then more units are used for larger ones. “These abilities mimic the complex manipulation, perception and control abilities of cephalopods,” says co-author Ravi Tutika from Virginia Tech. However, the scientists emphasize that further development work is necessary to come closer to the highly complex performance of natural models. “Our approach is certainly a step in the right direction, but we still have a lot to learn about squid before we can reach nature’s full eclipse potential,” Tutika said.
Still, according to the scientists, interesting potential for the technology is already emerging: an octopus glove could allow “craftsmen” in the water to be more sensitive, make their job easier, and keep them safe when handling sensitive objects or living creatures. can help. Robotics could also have potential applications: Technological systems – for example in healthcare or construction – could use the octopus concept to get a better grip on wet objects, scientists say.
Source: Virginia Tech, Technical Articles: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abq1905
Video © Virginia Tech
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