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Robotics

Does the Octopus Hold the Key To Robot Design? 347

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the or-are-they-just-a-bunch-of-slime dept.
balancedi writes "Simultaneously controling 8 jointless arms without getting them all tangled up is a neat trick that octopuses do with ease. According to a National Geographic article several researchers from around the world think understanding the octopus holds to key to the optimal robot design."
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Does the Octopus Hold the Key To Robot Design?

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  • True Story: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BWJones (18351) * on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:39PM (#11642897) Homepage Journal
    Octopuses have intrigued scientists for years, because they have both long- and short-term memory, they remember solutions to problems, and they can go on to solve the same or similar problems. They have been known to climb aboard fishing boats and open holds in search of crabs. They can figure out mazes, open jars, and break out of their aquariums in search of food.

    This part of the linked article rang very true for me.

    True story:

    Octopus are underrated. Seriously. I used to have an (Octopus bimaculoides) [utmb.edu] as a pet (her name was Cephus, short for Cephalopod) and I was always amazed at the intelligence and problem solving abilities she exhibited. One day I was returning from working all night at the sleep lab followed by a day of class. I had a new bag of goldfish to feed her and placed them in the "goldfish tank" across the table from her 100gal aquarium. She always got excited at that and would hang on the side of her tank and look at the goldfish. At any rate, I got a couple hours of sleep and then ran back to work for another all night shift. Upon stumbling back home the next day, I was stunned to find no goldfish in the goldfish tank! I did not know if I was just seriously sleep deprived or what, but closer inspection revealed goldfish scales floating around in Cephus's tank........and a trail of dried salt water on the table top from her tank to the goldfish tank. She had opened the top of her tank, navigated across the table to the goldfish tank, helped herself to every last goldfish in the goldfish tank and then crawled back home, closing the top of her tank! All I could do was stare in dumbfounded amazement.

    She also exhibited curiosity with new objects placed into her tank, exploring them extensively, and I must admit, it is most interesting in that unlike other aquatic non mammalians.....when you looked into an octopus eye, they look back at you. There is something absolutely intelligent behind those eyes.

    • Re:True Story: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mirko (198274)
      There is something absolutely intelligent behind those eyes.

      3 brains...
      So, could we say that 8(arms)=2^3(brains) ???
    • Re:True Story: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by JeanBaptiste (537955)
      I have fish, turtles, snakes, (and dogs and cats of course)

      How would I go about getting an octopus? Are they expensive?

      I've heard similar stories, that they are really quite intelligent.
      • Re:True Story: (Score:5, Informative)

        by avandesande (143899) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:54PM (#11643137) Journal
        caring for a salt water animal of any kind is a serious and expensive undertaking.

        Also octopus only live a year so they aren't the best pets if you grow attached.
      • I don't think your run of the mill octopus is that expensive...

        However a salt-water setup suitable for it is going to cost you (unless you have that already, you did say you were into fish)
      • I have fish, turtles, snakes, (and dogs and cats of course) How would I go about getting an octopus? Are they expensive? While octopii do have strong arms and an extremely intelligent and curious minds, this invariable leads to their doom in captivity. Whenever they are bored or see something interesting, they try and explore their environment. Usually this involves pushing open the lid of the fishtank and climbing out. Unfortunately, they are not too good at climbing back in. This happened in the marine
      • Re:True Story: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by homerito (591887)
        I seriously think that octopuses belong to the sea and they are not pets. I consider pets dogs and cats because they have been genetically modified (by us trought thousands of years) to be our companions.

        Please leave the octopuses, lizards, snakes, iguanas, guacamayas, cacatuas, monkeys and others where they belong.
        • How about cows?
          • As far as I know, cows have also gone various forms of breeding and domestication and are nothing like their "wild" forms. This is why there aren't any "wild" cows. There are bison, but not "wild cows".
        • Re:True Story: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Politburo (640618)
          I seriously think that octopuses belong to the sea and they are not pets. I consider pets dogs and cats because they have been genetically modified (by us trought thousands of years) to be our companions.

          Sorry, but that doesn't make a damn bit of sense. It's either right or it's wrong to have an animal as a pet. You can't say "oh well our ancestors made these animals pets so they're okay."

          If our ancestors had your attitude, we wouldn't have dogs, cats, cows, pigs, donkeys, horses, chickens, etc., as we k
          • Re:True Story: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by PatientZero (25929)
            I think the point is that dogs and cats derive pleasure from being companions to humans (my assumption from observing all of my pets over the years) while other animals haven't been domesticated similarly. True, you can say that our ancestors harmed the original cats and dogs by domesticating them, but they are long since dead, and their offspring benefit from being around humans and we benefit from them.

            I don't think this carries over to farm animals simply because we kill and eat them! Maybe the animals

    • Re:True Story: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by digitalchinky (650880)
      If you don't mind me asking, what happened to 'Cephus'? you speak of her in the past tense.

      if I had mod points....
      • Re:True Story: (Score:5, Informative)

        by BWJones (18351) * on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:04PM (#11643251) Homepage Journal
        If you don't mind me asking, what happened to 'Cephus'? you speak of her in the past tense.

        She died of old age. When I got her, I had found her on my SCUBA tank after we had returned home. She was soooo tiny (about the size of my thumbnail), and we were miles away from the ocean by that time. I did not want her to die, so we mixed up some artificial sea water and I carried her home to place her in a 100gal aquarium I had. Fed her with feeder goldfish, but clams and crabs purchased from the local pet store was what she really enjoyed. She lived about two years (which is very good for an octopus), grew to about 13 inches and finally died from old age.

        • Re:True Story: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by NanoGator (522640)
          Hmm I'm not sure how to ask this question, but I'll give it a shot:

          Did Cephus show any signs of being able to identify you personally? Did she ever react to you in a special way (i.e. letting you hold her)?

          I think the real reason I'm asking is that you seem to hold Cephus in really high regard. I was wondering if that was because she was simply interesting, or if it's because there was a bit of a bond there?
          • Re:True Story: (Score:5, Interesting)

            by BWJones (18351) * on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:10PM (#11644103) Homepage Journal
            Did Cephus show any signs of being able to identify you personally?

            Yes. She would change color when I came into the room or house and would always move to the top of the tank. I could reach into the tank and she would reach out and grab my fingers/hand. When others would enter the room, she often hid.

            I think the real reason I'm asking is that you seem to hold Cephus in really high regard.

            It was an educational experience that I will never forget. I've seen sharks and other fish in the ocean, and with the exception of dolphins, whales, seals, and the octopus, I've never seen signs of intelligence. The other aspect of the octopus is that they are so otherworldly in appearance and behavior. Changing colors/textures, curiosity, excellent vision, preferences for things they like and dislike..... It is as close as most of us will ever come to meeting an alien.

    • by ackthpt (218170) * on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:46PM (#11643018) Homepage Journal
      She had opened the top of her tank, navigated across the table to the goldfish tank, helped herself to every last goldfish in the goldfish tank and then crawled back home, closing the top of her tank! All I could do was stare in dumbfounded amazement.

      Next in the news:

      IT Jobs Outsourced to Octopii
      She also exhibited curiosity with new objects placed into her tank, exploring them extensively,

      Typical geek behaviour. Good thing I'm already used to eating seaweed...

    • Re:True Story: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mboverload (657893) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:47PM (#11643026) Journal
      Ever seen one of those nature specials? Jesus, they REALLY make you appriciate the abilities of those things. They can squeeze though like 3 inch diameter tubes to get to food, can climb out of a tank to get food, and just solve lots of problems.

      I agree, probably one of the most underrated animals.

      • When we realized that humans looked back whenever we looked at them, we realized that there IS intelligent life outside the sea. (Some) humans have earned my respect.

        OH darn, I'm drying up. I better go back to my tank.

        *plop*
    • (her name was Cephus, short for Cephalopod)

      For a second there, I thought you were gonna say Bocephus [hankjr.com].
    • Re:True Story: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Not_Wiggins (686627) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:12PM (#11643351) Journal
      She also exhibited curiosity with new objects placed into her tank, exploring them extensively, and I must admit, it is most interesting in that unlike other aquatic non mammalians.....when you looked into an octopus eye, they look back at you. There is something absolutely intelligent behind those eyes.

      They say the large octopus has an intelligence equivalent to a housecat. Perhaps we don't relate to the intelligence of these creatures (ie, find it surprising when they demonstrate intelligent behavior) because we don't interact with them on a daily basis. I never think twice about the intelligence of my cats because they're so common. I'll tell you, though... I started thinking twice about eating "grilled octopus" at the local restaurant after finding out just how smart they are.
      • "They say the large octopus has an intelligence equivalent to a housecat."

        I hate these animal intelligence equivalency metaphors. Of course, it's good to a point - it tells Joe Blow that an Octopus is not a soft, dumb crab. But, octopuses excel at figuring out mazes, picking locks, escaping cages, and most importantly hiding evidence of this from their keepers.

        I've never met a cat that cared two licks about any other sentient create around it, including cats. (I think they care about one lick). I honestly

    • Re:True Story: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Yes from my limited experience they are a little too intelligent.
      I was diving at a site over in spain and I was chatting to a few of the local divers I'd already dived their a couple of times already that season, they started joking about looking out for the octopi that lived in the area and to not let them get too close.
      Fair enough thought I, so I got kitted up entered the water and was looking for these octopi when I see one so I go and have a nice close look. Not to close thought I next thing I know it'
    • Re:True Story: (Score:4, Interesting)

      by vasqzr (619165) <`ten.epacsten' `ta' `rzqsav'> on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:36PM (#11643667)

      Here's a video [ngcomputerhelp.com] of an octopus attacking a crab

      • "Here's a video of an octopus attacking a crab"

        Wow.. that was a LOT like watching Oz...
      • Excellent find. This footage is fairly typical of an immature octopus attack on prey. Notice also the rapid color change from the background rocks to match the color and texture of the prey item (crawfish), once the octopus has contacted it.

    • " She had opened the top of her tank, navigated across the table to the goldfish tank, helped herself to every last goldfish in the goldfish tank and then crawled back home, closing the top of her tank!"

      Heh!

      When I was a kid I saw video of a dude that put a crab into a mason jar, screwed the lid, and put it in the tank with an octopus. The thing worked on it for a bit, then wrapped it's tentacles around the lid, did a surprising spinny trick, and feasted on crab. I got in trouble with my mom for shoutin
      • I got in trouble with my mom for shouting "Damn!"

        LOL! Yes indeed that is pretty much the same thing I said when I saw my first octopus attack its prey by circling around behind a rock and attack from behind after showing itself to the prey from the front. Strategy! shows logic and an understanding of action and consequence.

        By the way, I would like to see that footage. Is it available on the Internet?

    • Intelligence- yes. Sentience- not sure. We know octopi have intelligence. We know they have manipulation abilities. But the third requirement for Sentience is communication- anybody have any examples of one octopi teaching another octopi something?
  • by savagedome (742194) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:40PM (#11642918)
    Does the Octopus Hold the Key To Robot Design

    Even deeper question is, in which arm?
  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:41PM (#11642930) Journal
    But I'm more inclined to think that these guys [tolweb.org] probably have a lot more interesting robotics applications than octopusii do.

    Unless they think that making robots taste delicious is the secret to robot movement. Mmm... octopod
  • by BenJeremy (181303) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:46PM (#11643013)
    Doc Oc has known this for decades. ...in other news, Robotics Scientists often fall asleep during Spiderman movies and have epiphanies in the mornings following.

    My prediction: Slashdot article in the near future about the possibility of armored soldiers riding anti-gravity sleds pumped up with performance-enhancing drugs.
  • And Now... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Avyakata (825132) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:46PM (#11643015) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps they can figure out a way to replicate other octopus-like behavior, too. Like, say, squeezing into a bottle half it's size. I mean, that'd be great for all kinds of thing, consider what...

    oh, wait...nevermind...
  • by Speare (84249) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:47PM (#11643030) Homepage Journal
    The fact that an octopus doesn't get tangled up is probably related to the fact that the arms are (1) smooth, (2) pliable, (3) slippery, (4) oiled/lubricated, (5) immersed in a fluid. The way the arm tapers from large to small probably has some value here, too.

    What do you think hair conditioner does? It mostly lubricates the hair strands so it won't get traction and kink up onto other strands.

    Are we going to build tentacle robots that are oozing oil along their smooth plasticene actuators? I think I've seen a few Japanese cartoons along this motif...

  • by Xaroth (67516) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:48PM (#11643050) Homepage
    The octopus as an optimal robot design? Did none of them see The Matrix?! [google.com]

    Somebody warn them before it's too late!
  • by gelfling (6534) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:50PM (#11643078) Homepage Journal
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/09/09 07_octoarm.html

    In that the octopus has a brain hierarchy. The central brain sends a 'go get that food' command to a sub brain in the tentacle which executes commands in the completion of that goal on its own. The main brain doesn't have to think about controlling the mechanics of each arm.
  • by OriginalArlen (726444) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:51PM (#11643097)
    I have no idea whether it's true or not but... WTF, it's Friday :)

    A friend who is a throbbing-brained molecular biologist, with a PhD and everything :), told me this after too many pints of beer.

    He was told by the guy from the next lab over, at lunch, who'd heard it from someone in another lab at a party,...

    Some behavioural psychologists - I may have their precise taxonomic appellation incorrect - were planning an experiment with an octopus. They had a large maze, constructed of perspex. At one end was the octopus, at the other some food. The idea was just to time how long it took to navigate the maze and get to the food, which different routes it explored and so on. Well, they spent a long day setting everything up, getting the measuring fu in place and so forth. At the end of the day's work, the experiment was ready to run; they'd even connected the aquarium tank with a nice fresh octopus up to the maze equipment. The plan was to unlock the little hatch and give the octupus free access to the maze the following morning.

    So they come in bright and early the next day to find the food gone, the octopus fed, and the little hatchway re-locked from the inside...

  • Octi Movement (Score:5, Informative)

    by Red Weasel (166333) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:52PM (#11643109) Homepage
    The coolest part about the Movement of Octopus is the fact that only the body desides where to go. It's up to the legs to figure out how they're going to get there.

    If you ever get down the the Aquarium of the Americas you can get a pretty good display of this. Just make sure you make it for one of the feeding times 'cause the feeders do all the classic Octopus tricks(fish in a bottle, fish in a tank, fish with mirrors, mazes, etc).

  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:53PM (#11643123) Homepage
    From the linked article:
    Indeed, with their bizarre (at least to humans) looks...
  • by lightspawn (155347) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:56PM (#11643163) Homepage
    It holds, like, 8 of them.
  • by spud603 (832173) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:57PM (#11643175)
    Great!
    Now whack it over the head and take it from him. We've been looking for that.
    Damn octopi...
  • by worst_name_ever (633374) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:00PM (#11643200)
    Does the octopus hold the key to robot design? I think the more important question is: Does the octopus hold the key to totally awesome robot design?
  • by SamSim (630795)
    ...but last time I checked, the plural of "octopus" was "octopi", right?
    • Obviously, the plural of octopus is octopussy.

      DUH.
    • by lawpoop (604919) on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:27PM (#11644337) Homepage Journal
      Nope. The plural of pus is pedae, so if you want to be a pompous dick, you would say "octopedae" --

      But, since octopus is actually an English word (regardless of where we got it from -- we borrow words, not grammar structures), it takes the regular plural of all English words that end in an -s, -es.

      C'mon. Is the plural of sauna saunaa or saunat? A lot of our words come from other languages. If we have to adopt their pluarlization rules, that would be a nightmare laundry list of irregular plurals.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sphinx : "You must lash out with every limb, like the octopus who plays the drums."

    Mystery Men [wikiquote.org]

  • by Badgerman (19207) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:06PM (#11643281)
    I'm glad to see this. Going into computing from a psycology/neuroscience background, I always found biology to be an excellent source of ideas (or if nothing else, metaphors), for my work.

    Nature has already solved many a problem (with some flaws like any solution). It's bad enough to reinvent the wheel. It's worse to reinvent something even more complex.

    The sad part is wondering what else is out there that isn't being studied because we didn't think of it yet.
  • to keep the arms from constantly tangling themselves up, each arm has an independent peripheral nervous system and neural circuitry

    Interesting. This seems somewhat like the honda robot Asimo, in that Asimo also doesn't have just a single "brain" but rather a single primary processing unit and smaller controller units for each of his joints.
  • by Hard_Code (49548)
    http://images.google.com/images?q=dr%20octopus
  • CTHULHU WILL EAT YOUR SOUL
  • by BrettJB (64947) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:11PM (#11643339)
    From the article:
    Earlier research funded by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) suggests that, to keep the arms from constantly tangling themselves up, each arm has an independent peripheral nervous system and neural circuitry (see related-story link below). This allows the brain to essentially give a command--"Arm Four, fetch that tasty crab crawling by"--and have the arm carry out the order without the brain thinking about it again.


    Sounds like good management to me. Management (the octopus) assigns a task to one of their reports (arms). Tell them what to do, but don't micromanage the task.

    Or, it sounds like encapsulation. Pass just enough information to the Arm object to communicate the task, and allow Arm's private methods handle the detals of how that task is accomplished.
  • by skeptictank (841287) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:14PM (#11643381)
    "If you had something--a person, say--floating in a water column or in space, a straight mechanical arm is likely to push it away," said Thomas McKenna, a project officer at the ONR. "But an arm you could use to gently wrap around an object and retrieve it, that would be useful." Also, they are real popular with doe-eyed, psuedo-asian, female superheros.
  • Plural forms? (Score:5, Informative)

    by NEOtaku17 (679902) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:18PM (#11643431) Homepage

    Lesson [upenn.edu] on the correct plural version of Octopus. Very interesting read.

  • Already done. It didn't work out well.

    See for yourself [jsonline.com]
  • Octopi have one major advantage over 8-armed robots: they are alive, and have brains, something like muscles and neurons to go between. If we could make a robot that had a brain, muscles and neurons, I doubt we would care much about giving it 8 arms and watching it move them around without tying them in a knot. The octopus just has to think to itself, "don't tie my arms in a knot", like each of us does every day, and voila, no arm knots.
  • Octopus (Score:4, Funny)

    by sameerdesai (654894) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:25PM (#11643531)
    I don't want a Robot spraying me with Ink!!! Or Did I miss the point of the story ;-)
  • by saddino (183491) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:33PM (#11643626)
    After reading this startling bit from the article:

    Octopuses have intrigued scientists for years, because they have both long- and short-term memory, they remember solutions to problems, and they can go on to solve the same or similar problems. They have been known to climb aboard fishing boats and open holds in search of crabs. They can figure out mazes, open jars, and break out of their aquariums in search of food.

    It was a bit disheartening to see this "sponsored link" at the bottom of the article:

    A Seafood Delicacy: Order Octopus
    Gorton's Fresh Seafood delivers octopus - fully cleaned and freshly prepared. Delicious and mild in flavor - great boiled, stewed or grilled. Special packaging ensures freshness.


    Ah, the potential irony of keyword triggered ads!
  • by rj4x (689285) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:35PM (#11643657)
    The FA states:

    Just as a human arm has joints at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist that allow our arms to bend and rotate, the octopus bends its arm to forming three segments of roughly equal length.

    i wonder how roughly equal the segments were. it would be interesting to know if the difference in lengths correspond to the golden mean, ie coreespond to how our limbs are organized.

    (from google) the golden ratio = 1.61803399
  • ...or Science Friction as it were...

    The two immediate pictures that come to mind are Doc Ock from Spiderman II and those crazy Sentinels in the Matrix trilogy. I'm not sure if this is the "Jules Verne/Arthur C. Clark" Effect but maybe there's a pattern here...
    Nature's wonders observed and mimicked in fantasy and then made reality in technology. Hmmm.
  • Have these people spent any time actually watching an octopus? They are constantly getting their tentacles tangled. Octopi frequently get their limbs tangled in permanent knots, which is probably part of why they have extras (as backups to cover for the loss of functionality). I don't think these guys are who we want to model our robots after.
  • Octopuses, those boneless, brainy, denizens of the deep, use their arms for some tasks in much the same way humans do, according to a new study. But to bring captured prey to its mouth, the octopus turns the arm into a semi-rigid structure that bends to form quasi joints. Just as a human arm has joints at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist that allow our arms to bend and rotate, the octopus bends its arm to forming three segments of roughly equal length. "And indeed our studies show how the octopus simplifies t
  • by null etc. (524767) on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:52PM (#11644669)
    What's it like holding hands with an octopus?

    "It can be intimidating at first, because they wrap their arms pretty tight around you, and everything they latch onto is pretty much headed straight to their mouth"..."But once you get used to it, I can't describe it: They feel like wet velvet or wet silk."

    Sounds pretty obscene without the first sentence, doesn't it?

  • Neural Memory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dayeight (21335) on Friday February 11, 2005 @04:25PM (#11645848) Homepage Journal
    I remember reading that octopi's brains are wired in such a way, that a sort of neural memory implant can be passed onto offspring, such as locations of food, etc. Has anyone heard anything about this or contrary to this?

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