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Bioinspiration and Soft Robotics: lessons from Nature for new frontiers of robotics

January 26, 2016 14:20 – 15:10 Cecilia Laschi, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy

Look at an octopus with a roboticist’s eyes: its arm are soft and deformable, they can bend in any direction, at any point along the arm; however, they can stiffen when needed and they can grasp and pull objects with considerable strength; the octopus does not have a large brain, yet it can control this huge amount of possible movements and motion parameters.

The octopus is undoubtedly a good model for soft robotics, and an extreme one, considering that it has no rigid structures, of any kind. By understanding the secrets of the octopus soft dexterity and by copying few key principles, a soft-bodied 8-arm robot, that can crawl in water and take objects with stiff grasps has been developed and validated. The octopus-like robot is a good example of the feasibility of soft robots and related technologies.

Today, there is an important community of scientists studying Soft Robotics, which is not only facing the many interdisciplinary challenges for building soft robot components and systems, but is also focusing on helpful applications: a soft endoscope for biomedical applications, a soft arm for helping elderly people in the shower, and a ‘grown-up’ octopus robot helping humans in underwater explorations and operations.