The latest addition to a growing menagerie of octopus-robots has a lot going for it: It’s small, completely squishy, it doesn’t need a battery — and it farts.
The adorable palm-sized robot is the work of a team of engineers from Harvard University. They created our flatulent friend by pouring liquid silicone into an octopus-shaped mold and 3D printing legs. A soft, central controller in the bot’s body shunts hydrogen peroxide fuel through reaction chambers that convert the liquid to oxygen gas and water vapor. The gas inflates the legs through tiny channels running from the body and makes them wiggle — in a minimally alarming way, which is a first for the field of octobots. But that gas has to go somewhere when it’s done making the octobot squirm, so the team outfitted the little guy with orifices that it can fart through. Nothing makes a robot more relatable than flatulence. They published their octobot assembly manual today in the journal Nature.
This octobot joins a long line of octopus-inspired robots — many of which are also named octobot. Earlier creations like Italian researcher Ceclia Laschi’s swimming octobot relied on stiff actuators, control systems, and power packs to move around — which limits the robots squishability, an attribute scientists are actively striving for in robots that could interact with (and run into) people.
"We’ve been promised robots around us for decades now," says the study’s lead author Michael Wehner. He and co-author Ryan Truby say the problem is that robots aren’t known for their people skills — or their safety. Terminator-like robots with rigid parts could injure someone — even an egg-shaped mall security-bot in Palo Alto reportedly injured a little boy it ran down. But a squishy robot is less of a risk. Plus, Laschi says, robots with soft bodies will be better able to interact in a world designed for soft-bodied humans. So, naturally, researchers looked to an eight-armed, color-changing, suction-cup covered, whip-smart sea creature for inspiration.
"We think the octopus just looks cool."
"We think the octopus just looks cool," Wehner said. "We thought a pretty cool looking octopus might help get people on our side — convert people to soft robotics."
Now, in the past, The Verge has come down hard on octopus-shaped robots, in part because of their undeniable resemblance to Cthulhu, and wondered when the blood magic portion of the octobots will arrive. But I’ve been converted. I, for one, welcome our flatulent octobot overlords.