Scientists create octopus-inspired ‘super strong’ robotic suction cups

Suction cup grasping a stone
Suction cup grasping a stone Copyright Tianqi Yue
Copyright Tianqi Yue
By Roselyne Min with AP
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button
Copy/paste the article video embed link below:Copy to clipboardCopied

The scientists were inspired by the way natural organisms, such as octopuses, can stick to rocks with their suckers.


Researchers at the University of Bristol have developed a robotic suction cup prototype that is much stronger than current industrial solutions.

It can grab onto rough, curved, and heavy objects like stones.

The scientists were inspired by the way natural organisms, such as octopuses, can stick to rocks with their suckers.

“We know that in nature there are so many soft-bodied organisms, for example, octopuses and snails and some kind of fishes, they can adaptively suck onto irregular surfaces,” said Tianqi Yue, a robotics researcher at the University of Bristol.

Yue says all around us nature has formed in ways to overcome obstacles.

“We got the inspiration from these creatures and found that they can dextrously use their muscles and epitheliums,” Yue added.

‘The secret behind biological organisms’

To mimic their strength, the researchers studied the structures of an octopus’ biological suckers.

The team learned that creatures like octopuses secret mucus from their suckers which helps attach to complex surfaces, thanks to its high viscosity.

“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,” Yue wrote in a press release.

According to the research team, current industrial solutions are noisy and waste energy as they actively generate suction at all times, using a pump.

Instead, their suction cup is made with layers of soft materials and has a system that sprays a fluid solution, like the mucus in an octopus sucker.

The liquid seal improves the suction adaptability on complex surfaces, says the team.

“This is a suction cup we've developed we call it a multi-scale suction cup. So the difference of this kind of suction cup from the prior artificial suction cup is that it has a super strong adaptive suction ability on complex surfaces,” said Yue.

“So we know that suction cups can work very well on flat and smooth surfaces, but obviously, previous suction cups cannot adhere to complex surfaces and highly curved or rough surfaces,” he added.

“This kind of suction cup addressed this problem so it can strongly adhere to complex surfaces, for example, rocks, wood and some unstructured objects”.

Now the researchers are aiming to use sensors inside the cups to make the suckers smarter.

They say this will enable each sucker to measure the resistance, pressure, and suction needed for each object.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Roselyne Min

Share this articleComments

You might also like