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Octopus-like rubber skin could lead to shape-shifting robots

Biomimicry is awesome.
Mariella Moon, @mariella_moon
October 19, 2017
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Cornell University in New York/Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts/IEEE Spectrum

Octopuses are awe-inspiring creatures. They're smart, and they can camouflage themselves by changing colors and changing the texture of their skin to mimic the environment's. A group of scientists from Cornell University in New York and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts wanted to give soft robots the same ability, so they created a synthetic elastic skin that can morph into different shapes and change textures.

The team designed a material based on the muscle underneath octopus skin that controls the animal's dermal papillae. Those are the protrusions in the cephalopod's skin that pop up when it wants to blend into its surroundings. That material is composed of several layers, including a fiber mesh and the rubber skin itself. When you pump air into the structure, some parts of the skin expand, while others get held back by the mesh to form various shapes, like rocks and plants.

The team still has a lot of work to do to perfect their creation, including giving it the ability to form multiple shapes at once. But in the future, the material could be used not to only to create soft robots with the ability to camouflage themselves, but also to immersive VR experiences. Imagine coming across a strange alien from another planet and being able to touch its skin with the help of a prop. Sounds cool, doesn't it?

In this article: gear, robot, robots, softrobot
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