The octopus is a fascinating creature - and it isn't just Ringo Starr, the drummer from the Beatles who sang about his desire to visit an Octopus's Garden, who has taken a keener-than-usual interest in the eight-armed aquatic wonder. Indeed, the Esslingen-based control system and automation specialists at FESTO are also impressed - albeit for completely different reasons. As an octopus doesn't have a skeleton and is almost entirely made of soft muscle tissue, it is extraordinarily flexible and maneuverable. That means not only can it swim nimbly in any direction, but it can also get a secure form-fitting grip on a huge range of objects. The bionics experts at FESTO are now replicating this phenomenon for themselves and have developed the OctopusGripper.
The bionic gripper consists of a soft silicon structure whose movements are controlled by an integrated pneumatic system. If the air pressure in the tentacle is increased, it folds in on itself, thereby creating a form-fitting grip on an object. Just as on its counterpart in nature, the inside of the silicon tentacle features two rows of suction cups. While the small suction cups at the tip of the gripper are passive, a vacuum can be applied to the larger ones, thereby ensuring the object is held tightly by the gripper. This means the OctopusGripper can pick up and hold a whole range of different shapes. Since it is made from soft material, the artificial tentacle has a gentle but secure grip and also satisfies the strict criteria for soft robotics components and thus has great potential for the collaborative working environments of the future.