In the vein of marine animals inspiring design, I offer today the octopus-cum-robot. I kid not.

After discovering in March that some octopus species use two of their eight arms to “walk” along the seafloor bipedal style (it’s true! see footage here and here), scientists at the University of California at Berkeley were inspired to develop an entirely new field of robotics involving soft, muscle-like machines that would walk much like the octopus.

“Each arm rolls along the suckers and pushes the animal back, and then the other arm touches down, rolls along the suckers, and pushes the animal back again,” says biologist Chrissy Hufford.

“They flatten part of their arm like a tank tread, and roll backwards on it. They make a functional foot, even though they don’t have an anatomic foot.”

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Scientists are hoping they will be able to mimic this fluid movement and flexibility in robots built without hard parts, and a prototype — essentially a tube with a spring inside — has already been constructed. The advantage of soft robotics, says biologist Bob Full, is that the robot could squeeze through tiny spaces, much like the octopus, and could function in a search-and-rescue capacity, moving into tight areas no other robot could reach.

Pretty cool, though the idea of robots in general kinda freaks me out.

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