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Octopus suckers to inspire new devices

04/12/13Science & Technology

Italy: New research has investigated how octopus suckers help them attach to surfaces and examined how artificial materials compare.

The team from the Instituto Itlaiano di Technologia hope that revealing the properties of these suckers will inspire a new generation of attachment devices.

The octopus is an ‘emblem of soft robotics’ asit has no rigid structure. Octopus arms can bend in all directions, quickly elongate and change in stiffness. Each limb, lined with two rows of suckers ranging from a few centimetres to a few millimetres, can grab wet, non-porous surfaces with minimal energy consumption.

The researchers investigated the morphology and mechanical properties of the two different parts of the suckers: the acetabular (the cup-like upper part of the sucker), and the infundibular (the lower part that makes contact with surfaces in an octopus’s grip). The acetabular was fairly smooth whilst the infundibular was covered in grooves which spread low pressure produced by the acetabular over the whole infundibular surface. This aids suction and helps octopuses hold tight to wet surfaces.

The team also measured the mechanical properties of octopus suckers. They found the tissues that the suckers are made of are some of the softest biological materials, as soft as jellyfish jelly. The team suggest the softness of the tissues, especially the infundibular, means that the suckers can closely align with the surfaces they grip, molding to their shape to make a water-tight seal.

The researchers compared their results to current materials used to mimic octopus suckers. They found artificial suckers were made from smooth materials which did not replicate the grooved textured surface of the infundibular. The researchers concluded that to recreate the properties of octopus suckers, a soft and viscous material to mimic the infundibular and a more elastic and slightly stiffer material to replicate the hollow acetabular are required.

The research has been published in the Royal Society journal Interface.

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