Robotics: New suction cup mimics octopus suckers

Scientists at the University of Bristol have unveiled a revolutionary robotic suction cup with the remarkable ability to grasp rough, curved, and heavy stones. The team, operating out of the esteemed Bristol Robotics Laboratory, drew inspiration from the awe-inspiring adaptive suction capabilities of octopus biological suckers, and their findings, recently published in the prestigious journal PNAS, are set to redefine the landscape of soft adhesion technology.

By delving into the intricate structures of octopus suckers, the researchers uncovered the key to their extraordinary gripping prowess. Through meticulous study and experimentation, they successfully engineered a multi-layer soft structure and an artificial fluidic system that closely mimics the musculature and mucus structures of biological suckers. This pioneering approach has the potential to revolutionize the field of robotic manipulation and industrial automation.

Dr. Tianqi Yue, the lead author of the study, elaborated on the significance of their work, stating, “The most important development is that we successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of the combination of mechanical conformation – the use of soft materials to conform to surface shape, and liquid seal – the spread of water onto the contacting surface for improving the suction adaptability on complex surfaces. This may also be the secret behind biological organisms’ ability to achieve adaptive suction.”

The newly devised multi-scale suction mechanism represents a fusion of mechanical conformation and regulated water seal. By employing multi-layer soft materials, the suction cup creates a rough mechanical conformation to the substrate, reducing leaking apertures to mere micrometres. Subsequently, the remaining micron-sized apertures are sealed by regulated water secretion from an artificial fluidic system, ensuring prolonged suction longevity on diverse surfaces with minimal overflow.

“We believe the presented multi-scale adaptive suction mechanism is a powerful new adaptive suction strategy which may be instrumental in the development of versatile soft adhesion,” added Dr. Tianqi, shedding light on the far-reaching implications of their research.

This new development has immense potential for various industrial applications, particularly in the realm of robotics. The newly devised robotic gripper holds promise for effectively grasping a wide array of irregular objects, offering a next-generation solution to the challenges of manipulation and handling in diverse industries.