A team of researchers has designed a glove for humans that mimics the tentacles of an octopus.
The work has been published in Science Advances .
A team of researchers led by Michael Bartlett, from Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, USA), has developed a glove inspired by an octopus, capable of safely grasping objects underwater.
The human hand is useless underwater
Human beings are not equipped to thrive in an underwater environment. We use tanks to breathe, wetsuits to protect and warm our bodies, and goggles to see clearly. Our earthly hands and fingers are also not well equipped to hold or grasp things, as anyone who has tried to hold a fish in water will know.
Salvage divers, underwater archaeologists, bridge engineers, and salvage crews use their hands to rescue people or retrieve objects from the water. Metal tongs are often used for these underwater tasks. But when a delicate touch is required, it would help to have hands made for water.
A powerful adhesion
The octopus is one of the most unique creatures on the planet, equipped with eight long arms that can grab onto countless things in an aquatic environment. Its tentacles are equipped with suction cups controlled by the animal’s muscular and nervous systems.
Each suction cup, shaped like the end of a plunger, has a powerful gripping ability. Its wide outer rim seals to the object, muscles contract and relax the cupped area behind the rim to add and release pressure.
The octopus controls more than 2,000 suction cups, distributed in eight arms, with chemical and mechanical sensors.
A design for humans
To design their glove, the researchers focused on envisioning suction cups: rubber stems covered in soft, actuated membranes. The design was created to perform the same function as the suction cup of an octopus.
The glove carries micro-LIDAR proximity optical sensors that detect how close or far an object is. The suction cups and lidar sensors were connected to mimic the nervous and muscular systems of an octopus.
In addition, the use of sensors to engage the suction cups also makes the system adaptable.
rocks and barnacles
In a natural environment, an octopus wraps its arms around boulders, rocks, and surfaces, clinging to smooth shells and rough barnacles.
The research team was looking for something that would come naturally to humans and allow them to pick things up effortlessly, adapting to different shapes and sizes like an octopus would.
His solution was a glove with tightly integrated synthetic suction cups and sensors, a harmony of wearable systems that grip many different shapes underwater. They called it Octo-glove .
In tests, the researchers tried a few different grip modes. To manipulate delicate and light objects, they used a single sensor. They found they could quickly pick up and drop flat objects, metal toys, cylinders, the double-curved part of a spoon, and a ball of ultra-soft hydrogel.
By reconfiguring the sensor network using all of them for object detection, they were also able to grab larger things like a plate, box, and bowl. Flat, cylindrical, convex, and spherical objects composed of hard and soft materials were attached and lifted, even when the users did not grasp the object by clenching their hands.
Looking ahead, the researchers envision the glove playing a role in the field of soft robotics for underwater gripping, applications in user-assisted technologies and healthcare, and in manufacturing to assemble and handle wet objects.