Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a glove that enables divers to get a firm grasp while, for example, rescuing someone or salvaging a shipwreck.
The ‘octa-glove’ is inspired by octopus tentacles and is covered in robotic suckers equipped with sensors that can tell how far away an object is. When the sensors detect a nearby surface, it sends a signal to the controller which will activate the sucker’s adhesion.
Rescue divers, underwater archaeologists, bridge engineers, and salvage crews will tremendously benefit from this.
Michael Bartlett, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering, said: ‘There are critical times when this becomes a liability. Nature already has some great solutions, so our team looked to the natural world for ideas. The octopus became an obvious choice for inspiration.’
‘When we look at the octopus, the adhesive certainly stands out, quickly activating and releasing adhesion on demand,’ said Bartlett.
‘What is just as interesting, though, is that the octopus controls over 2,000 suckers across eight arms by processing information from diverse chemical and mechanical sensors.
‘The octopus is really bringing together adhesion tunability, sensing, and control to manipulate underwater objects.’
The team in the Soft Materials and Structures Lab developed their own suckers that had compliant, rubber stalks capped with soft membranes.
Their method was published today in the journal Science Advances.
Eric Markvicka from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln then added an array of micro-LIDAR optical proximity sensors that detect how close an object is.
The suckers and LIDAR sensors were then connected through a microcontroller, thus mimicking the nervous and muscular systems of an octopus.
‘Just move your hand toward an object, and the glove does the work to grasp. It can all be done without the user pressing a single button.’
In their tests, 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.
Postdoctoral researcher Ravi Tutika said: ‘These capabilities mimic the advanced manipulation, sensing, and control of cephalopods and provide a platform for synthetic underwater adhesive skins that can reliably manipulate diverse underwater objects,
‘This is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is much for us to learn both about the octopus and how to make integrated adhesives before we reach nature’s full gripping capabilities.’
In the future, the researchers hope the glove will play a role in underwater gripping robotics, user-assisted technologies, healthcare, and manufacturing wet objects.