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The OctopusGripper is an Oceanic Addition to Factory Automation

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.

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.

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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Written by Mike Epifani May 9, 2017

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