A Robot Arm With The Tender Grip Of An Octopus

If you’ve ever experimented with a robot gripper, you’ll know that while it is easy to make an analogue of the human ability to grip between thumb and forefinger, it is extremely difficult to capture the nuances of grip with the benefit of touch feedback to supply only just enough of the force required to grip and hold an object. You as a human can pick up a delicate eggshell without breaking it using the same hand you might use to pick up a baseball or a cricket ball, but making your robot do the same thing is something of an engineering challenge.

The robot gripper is something that has exercised the minds of the folks at Festo, and the solution they have arrived at is as beautiful as it is novel. They have produced a gripper based upon the action of an octopus tentacle,  though unlike the muscle of the real thing they’ve created a silicone tube which bends inwards when inflated. Its inner surface is covered with octopus-like suckers, some of which can be activated by a vacuum. The result is a very capable and versatile gripper which due to its soft construction is ideal for use in environments in which robots and humans interact.

They’ve put up a slick video showing the device in action, which we’ve put below the break. Tasks such as gripping a rolled-up magazine or a plastic bottle that would tax more conventional grippers are performed faultlessly.


We’ve shown you quite a few Festo projects before on these pages, they are as prolific as they are innovative. There was a novel drone/blimp hybrid, a veritable nest of robotic ants, and a robotic kangaroo, among many others.


30 thoughts on “A Robot Arm With The Tender Grip Of An Octopus

          1. “I know none of the above terms”

            Me neither. And I’m not going to do something silly like search for them. There do be much worse things that dragons out there…

  1. “faultlessly”? Looks to me like the humans have to adjust what they are holding so the gripper holds it correctly.
    I would bet that it would have a difficult time picking up one of those objects from a table.

    1. I worked on this special arm and I can tell you it improved a lot! The old arm was fully SLS printed and wasn’t able to support a lot weight. The new one is able to support more than it’s own weight (they claim it supports 3kg, actually it’s able to support up to 5kg). And that’s something no other robotic arm accomplished yet. I think it’s kinda sad that the arm itself gets less attention than the octopus gripper.

    1. This could be really impressive and move as a hand does if made with many chambers, but would remain weak to the point of little use. Make a great Disney animatropic.

      Mother nature had lots of time to perfect the system of bones, joints, and tendons pulled by remote muscles. We won’t get a good, strong, working hand till a group simply sits down and just does the labor to study and duplicate it. Parts are getting small enough.

      Looks cool! Though. Points for that.

      These are not the droids we’re looking for.

      1. The problem in making prosthetic hands isn’t that the natural hand isn’t studied or that the findings aren’t used – it’s that the artificial muscles aren’t too good and that the control system is very complicated. There have been many designs that are almost 1:1 copies of human arms/hands but are huge and difficult to control.

        Also why assume the natural design is the best? that’s not scientific in any way.

          1. One of many problems. We still have no good muscle replacement and the touch sensors available aren’t as good as the natural ones. Then there’s the problem with power delivery – a natural limb need no batteries or compressed air. And rigidly attaching an artificial limb is still a huge problem.

        1. “why assume the natural design is the best? that’s not scientific in any way.”

          Maybe yes maybe no. It’s impossible, as far as I know, to prove a physical design is ideal. You can prove it is ideal given a limited theoretical model, but given the infinite possibilities there’s always going to be a slightly better design that hasn’t been implemented yet.

          In practice, natural designs are innately ideal, or close enough, because they’ve gone through millions of years of design cycles. Survival of the fittest implies survival of the best design iteration. The next generation of a design will often be better than the last, but it is tough to come up with a better hand design than the one that was naturally selected over eons.

          If you can, please do so, build it, demonstrate its superiority in all criteria, and collect your Nobel prize.

          1. I’m in complete agreement with the various responses saying; “Then go do it if you’re gonna talk so big.”. That’s the point of my comment… it’s realistically become within reach for a group of innovating hackers and will take much less time than industry or institutions of higher learning need. And this project WILL take a group with eyes on collaboration.

            There is an opportunity here to innovate where industry and institutions are stumbling. The internet provides a worldwide environment synonymous with the garage or ham shack, plus instant communication with the bonus of freedom of speech such that naysayers quickly self-identify,(a few already have), and are easily filtered out.

            I would never collect a Nobel prize….

            … but when your group gathers and organizes, your group could. Realize your collective potential. Those APPLE][ boys did!

          1. I stopped reading gizmodo when that started to punish me for using a VPN by sending me lots of captcha pages.

            It’s probably another Cloudflair site and I ignore *all* of those unless it a government site in my county. In which case I send them an email that is a complete thread of me arguing with a government web site about how their web site does not conform to accessibility legislation because Cloudflare chose to use the google captcha. The email ends when a solicitor becomes involved and says “It’s legislation. Compliance is not optional”.

  2. Just the other day I thought to myself…

    How will I ever slowly yet weakly grasp this solid yet light, smooth and clean cylindrical object, which just so happens to be exactly 2.75″ in diameter, in the most inefficient method possible?

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