Octopus-inspired Octa-glove lets you grab underwater things

Researchers have developed a glove by taking inspiration from octopus giving those who wear it the ability to grab things underwater easily. The work is done by researchers at Virginia Tech’s Michael Bartlett and others.

We humans aren’t able to or equipped to grab things underwater. Human hands with less capability to hold slippery things must resort to using more force, and an iron grip can sometimes compromise those operations. When a delicate touch is required, it would be helpful to have hands made for water.

Those are the very appendages that Bartlett and his fellow researchers sought to build. His team in the Soft Materials and Structures Lab adapted biological solutions into new technologies made from soft materials and robotics.

Taking inspiration from octopus, researchers focused on re-imagining the suckers: compliant, rubber stalks capped with soft, actuated membranes. The design was created to perform the same function as the sucker of an octopus — activating a reliable attachment to objects with light pressure, ideal for adhering to both flat and curved surfaces.

Having developed the adhesive mechanisms, they also needed a way for the glove to sense objects and trigger the adhesion. For this, they brought in Assistant Professor Eric Markvicka from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who added an array of micro-LIDAR optical proximity sensors that detect how close an object is. The suckers and LIDAR were then connected through a microcontroller to pair the object sensing with the sucker engagement, thus mimicking the nervous and muscular systems of an octopus.

Using the sensors to engage the suckers also makes the system adaptable. In a natural environment, an octopus winds its arms around crags in rocks and surfaces, attaching to smooth shells and rough barnacles. The research team also wanted something that felt natural to humans and allowed them to pick things up effortlessly, adapting to different shapes and sizes as an octopus would. Their solution was a glove with synthetic suckers and sensors tightly integrated together, a harmony of wearable systems grabbing many different shapes underwater. They called it Octa-glove.

In testing, the researchers tried a few different gripping modes. To manipulate delicate and lightweight objects, they used a single sensor. They found that they could quickly pick up and release flat objects, metal toys, cylinders, the double-curved portion of a spoon, and an ultrasoft hydrogel ball. By reconfiguring the sensor network to utilize all sensors for object detection, they also were able to grip larger objects such as a plate, a box, and a bowl. Flat, cylindrical, convex, and spherical objects consisting of both hard and soft materials were adhered and lifted, even when users did not grab the object by closing their hands.

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