Octopus-Like Robots Will Face Off in a Soft Robots Olympics in April

Wednesday, 03 February 2016 - 12:55PM
Wednesday, 03 February 2016 - 12:55PM
Octopus-Like Robots Will Face Off in a Soft Robots Olympics in April
Flexible, tentacled robots are taking over Livorno, Italy, as the Biorobotics Institute is holding the first-ever outdoor competition for soft robots. The RoboSoft Grand Challenge will take place in April, and will be a landmark event for an ever-growing field that may represent the future of robotics.

The contest was open to international teams of experts all over the world, and the accepted teams were just notified on January 31. The contest itself will take place on April 29-30, and will include competitions in three different venues: terrestrial, manipulation, and underwater. The terrestrial leg of the contest will simulate a disaster situation in which a robot will need to navigate an environment in which humans cannot enter, such as a fallen building. The robot will need to move through a sandbox, squeeze through a small aperture, climb up stairs, and balance in an unstable environment without causing it to collapse. 


The manipulation task will require the robots to pick up and move objects to a specific location and open a door with a handle, while the underwater race will simulate a fragile environment not available to divers, requiring the robots to "jump" 50 cm into the water, move inside a small aperture that can increase or decrease in size, and remove algae without disturbing fragile parts of the ecosystem, like coral.

The underwater aspect is particularly interesting, as this will likely be the main venue for soft robotics. While terrestrial robots require a hard, skeleton-like structure in order to counteract the effects of gravity, buoyancy in water (or another liquid medium) eliminates that necessity, allowing the robots to perform much more precise, delicate tasks than any hard robot could ever perform. 

Here's a tentacled robot from the Biorobotics Institute moving underwater: 

robot tentacles

This competition has the potential to be an extremely important milestone. Hard robots are notoriously clumsy and imprecise, so many believe that soft robotics are the future, especially when it comes to surgical robots, which are increasingly built to mimic the flexibility of octopus tentacles, and possibly rescue robots as well, who are able to navigate unstable structures without collapsing them. Dr. Octopus may be a villain in Spider-Man lore, but a similar type of robot could end up saving many lives in the near future.

Via Popular Science.

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