Soft robotics can go a long way toward recreating the graceful movements of fish and other animals, and it now looks like they're helpful for replicating some of the stranger creatures on our planet, too. A team of Greek researchers has developed an octopus robot that uses silicone tentacles and webbing to move as elegantly as the real thing -- it's convincing enough that small fish will follow along. It's also much faster than a previous attempts, which used stiff plastic to plow through the water. While the original robot moved along at four inches per second, its squishier successor moves along at a healthier seven inches. That's not nearly as quick as the real deal, which can reach 25MPH in bursts, but it's far more consistent with what you'd expect from a real critter this size.
However attention-getting this mechanical cephalopod may be, it isn't just for show. Scientists believe that a camera-equipped version could observe sea life without disrupting it, unlike conventional robots or humans. There's no timetable for when that would happen, but it won't be surprising if eight-armed automatons are eventually scouting underwater ecosystems everywhere.