Most robots have a problem, which is that they're hard. The last few years have seen major advances in soft robotics, but the challenge to create a soft-bodied robot that can both locomote and manipulate objects has not yet been realized. At The Octopus Chronicles, Katherine Harmon Courage reports that a group of Italian researchers have filed just such a patent.

Above: Close-up on the suckers of a Giant Pacific Octopus. (Michael Bentley/Flickr)

Harmon explains:

The octopus robot is a hallmark of the move toward more soft-bodied bots. As the researchers note in their patent application, some soft robots can move around (such as a robotic worm), and others can pick up objects (such as a robotic elephant trunk). "But the two functions have not yet been obtained together," they write. Or at least until now. Robotic octopuses "are capable of adapting to the shape of obstacles and they can manipulate fragile objects without damaging them," the researchers point out.

Like the real octopus, the robot is still most efficient in the water, where it can float and swim. And the multi-armed model confers the a distinct advantage: "during locomotion, while some arms act as support for stability, the others provide for thrusting allowing the robot to advance," the scientists point out.

Here's the summary from the patent application:

A robot having an overall structure inspired by the Octopus vulgaris is described. The robot has soft arms joined in a radial manner to a central support. The soft arms have the capability of lengthening, shortening and wrapping around in a coil-shape manner. The extremely simple movements and coordination of the soft arms are effective because of the interaction between the single actions. For example during locomotion, while some arms act as a support for stability, the others provide for thrusting allowing the robot to advance. Once near the target, some arms provide for stability whereas the others can bend so as to wrap around and transport external entities.

The obvious next step is to invent a robotic octopus that can play with a Mr. Potato Head.

Read more at The Octopus Chronicles.