Watch Harvard's wild octopus-inspired tentacle robot grab a live crab


Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

The octopus-inspired robotic tentacle picks up a live crab.

Bertoldi Lab/Harvard SEAS

Octopuses can open jars, use underwater cameras and plan crafty aquarium escapes. They're smart, but they also have an advantage when it comes to manipulating objects thanks to their incredible tentacles. We're now a little closer to having a robot that's just as impressive.

Researchers with the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Beihang University in China have developed a soft robotic tentacle with suction cups that can adapt to many different situations. 

The versatile robot can grab, grip and lift all sorts of objects. It uses two valves that control the arm's ability to bend and activate its suckers. Harvard released a video showing it tackling everything from a walnut to an exercise ball.

"Our research is the first to quantify the tapering angles of the arms and the combined functions of bending and suction, which allows for a single small gripper to be used for a wide range of objects that would otherwise require the use of multiple grippers," said Harvard Ph.D. graduate August Domel, lead author of a paper on the robot published in Soft Robotics this week.

The researchers' work went into the creation of a commercial prototype called the TentacleGripper in partnership with automation-technology company Festo. 

The pliable nature of the robot makes it a good candidate for situations where it needs to interact with people. "Even in the event of a collision, they [the tentacles] are harmless and do not have to be shielded from the worker like conventional factory robots," said Festo.

Of course, I'm eager to see an eight-tentacle version of this robot. For science.

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