We are born with many abilities, but gripping things underwater is not one of them. Divers use oxygen tanks for breathing, special suits to keep the body warm, and other equipment to adapt to underwater environments for the short duration of time that they spend below the surface. However, we do know other species that are more capable of surviving in the environment, and they can teach us something. Scientists at Virginia Tech took inspiration from an octopus to design a glove for gripping objects underwater.
The octopus is expert at grabbing and holding objects underwater. The sea animal has eight tentacles covered with suckers that create a strong grip. Scientists came up with the concept of a soft rubber glove lined with soft, actuated membranes to put the octopus’ gripping mechanism to use. The researchers then had to find a way for the glove to sense objects and trigger the adhesion. The team experimented with a range of optical sensors detecting how close an object is and integrating it with the suckers. Put this in a glove using an intelligent design, and you have an Octa-glove! The glove was helpful in picking flat objects, metal toys, cylinders, the double-curved portion of a spoon, and an ultrasoft hydrogel ball. Larger objects like a plate, a box, and a bowl were also easy to grip with the glove.
Scientists believe the discovery is in the right direction for the field of soft robotics, especially for gripping objects underwater, applications in user-assisted tech, health, and manufacturing wet objects.