The octopus is a fascinating creature. It’s perhaps one of the most alien-looking lifeforms that calls the Earth home. They can flush their skin a variety of colors, and contort their bodies to fit through holes as small as one inch in diameter. It’s that latter flexibility that’s made the octopus a model for soft robots.
In late April, ten teams will compete in Livorno, Italy in the first RoboSoft Grand Challenge, which will be hosted by the RoboSoft collaboration.
“The RoboSoft Grand Challenge aims at inspiring and pushing innovations in robotics technology and includes tasks in three different challenge scenarios: ‘Terrestrial race,’ ‘Manipulation,’ (and) ‘Underwater race,’” according to RoboSoft.
In the challenge, the robots will be tasked with racing across a sand pit, opening a door by its handle, grabbing a variety of objects, and navigating around obstacles, according to Nature News.
The idea of soft robots isn’t new. In fact, researchers have been experimenting in the field for a number of years now. One of the people advancing the field is Cecilia Laschi, of The BioRobotics Institute and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy. Laschi also serves as the coordinator for RoboSoft.
Previously, Laschi and colleagues developed a soft robot tentacle prototype capable of mirroring an octopus’ tentacle locomotion.
Unlike hard-bodied robots, soft robots are designed without a skeleton. This allows them to potentially bypass any problems posed by rigidity.
Laschi told Nature News that she envisions soft robots eventually being combined with traditional robotics. Her colleagues at Kings College London are developing a surgical endoscope based on her previous work, the media outlet reported.
The challenge is part of the second Soft Robotics Week, which will be held from April 25 to 30.