Technology

The OctopusGripper is an Oceanic Addition to Factory Automation

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The OctopusGripper, designed by the German automation company Festo, is pretty much just what it sounds like: a machine that grips objects with an octopus-like tentacle. The automation technology takes inspiration and even some specific design cues from the sea creature of its namesake, but its importance goes beyond its unique appearance.

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OctopusGripper's grasping action is inspired by octopus tentacles

An Octopus That Breathes Air

The OctopusGripper has a few advantages over the metal arms that make up most factory automation. It functions pneumatically, meaning its joints are powered by air, so it can self-halt when it's got a good hold on the item it's gripping. Its cephalopod appearance also gives more flexibility: a typical robotic hand can only hold items of a certain shape and width, but a tentacle has the freedom to wrap around an object of almost any dimension. Even the suction cups serve an important purpose. They not only provide a better grip, but also allow for more control over the item's release—when the air pressure turns off, the suction cups release one by one.

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OctopusGripper: grasping based on the model of the octopus’s tentacles

Better Than a Metal Claw?

The device's most important benefit, however, has got to be safety. Its squishy, balloon-like construction makes it far safer than a metal arm when robots and humans are working together. Which would you rather get hit by, a metal claw or an inflated piece of rubber? As a result, the device has the potential to open up a lot of factory floor space, since pneumatic factory robots are currently locked away in giant metal safety cages. It's possible that the factories of the future will look a lot more like Sea World—and keep workers a lot safer.

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