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Does the Octopus Hold the Key To Robot Design? 347

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) [] 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 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:44PM (#11642978) Journal
    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 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:44PM (#11642984)
    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:2, Interesting)

    by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:46PM (#11643014)
    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, 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.

  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:50PM (#11643078) Homepage Journal 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...

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

    by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <> on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:08PM (#11643306) Homepage Journal
    Turtles are on the other end of the scale. You'd better make a provision in your will for the care of the turtle after you die. I don't care of you're 18 years old, and you plan to live to be 100. If you take care of that turtle, it'll outlive you. I think that's pretty damn cool.
  • 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.
  • Re:True Story: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The_Mr_Flibble ( 738358 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:27PM (#11643554)
    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's managed to remove my mask and make off with it.
    Fair enough thought I so I release my bouy and make a controlled ascent as I didn't feel like continuing the dive sans mask.
    upon breaking the surface I look towards the shore where the locals are having a good laugh at my expense.
    So why did it remove my mask ?
    Most people thought it was to get rid of any pesky diver snooping around others thought that it was collecting them and wanted to start a dive shop as it (assuming that it's the same one here)had also tried to remove regs with a little less success.

    Had to go and buy a new mask though !
  • 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
  • Re:True Story: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vasqzr ( 619165 ) <vasqzr AT netscape DOT net> on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:36PM (#11643667)

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

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

    by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:46PM (#11643791) Homepage Journal
    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?
  • by catdevnull ( 531283 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:04PM (#11644019)
    I remember this story from one of the major aquaria. Fish were disappearing from display tanks. They couldn't figure it out. One keeper noticed a slime trail from the octopus's tank. It seems that at night, the little bugger was sneaking from tank to tank eating the display critters. As an aquarium keeper, I can attest to finding unexpected ingenuity in our aquatic little friends. Fascintating to watch them.
  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:47PM (#11644612)
    Honest to God, they are healthy to eat. I live average about 7 miles from the southern California side of the Pacific Ocean, and recently the giant squid have been running through. I don't fish anymore, realy. When the giant squid run through the San Diego offshore area, they always decide to beach themselves and die. Most people are too retarded to grab these 40 pound carcasses and deep freeze them in preparation for using as Grouper, Big Eye tuna, or Shark bait; or for eating after cooking. probably 10 tons of squid washed ashore at Newport Beach about October and November of our last year 2004. Just my advice... Just because it died in your aquarium doesn't mean its bad to eat, unless you were so sad that you let it set and fester thinking she'll come back. Face it, she's dead Jim. Throw her in the skillet. Maybe you'll have the privilege to do the same to your mother-in-law soon.
  • Re:True Story: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nopal ( 219112 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @03:11PM (#11644934)
    That's interesting. I have a tank of African Chichlids, and some do seem to identify all of our family members.

    When I and/or my wife and daughters at home the fish are usually swimming about, without a care in the world. When there is a visitor, say, a friend of mine that I haven't seen in awhile, the fish will hide and hardly show themselves. I've had some of those fish for nearly a decade (some chichlids can live for several decades), but I didn't start noticing that behaviour until a couple of years ago.

    I don't think that chichlids are nearly as intelligent as octopi, but I'm still amazed that they seem to display that particular behavior.

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

    by BLAG-blast ( 302533 ) on Friday February 11, 2005 @04:17PM (#11645739)
    All cats seem to be able to do is groom and hunt.

    They can bury poo as well!

    Not only that, but cats have been know to seize control of the occational country []. Don't give cats the vote.

    Not sure about how much cats care for people. But cats do bring people presents and gifts, atleast all the cats (male and female) that I've lived with. Normally small mice, gloves, snakes, the odd balloon. But one time when I was very young, my family was poor and food as short, the cat brought home large rabit, large than it's self, large enough to feed everybody (2 adults, one 4 year old and cat) for a couple of days. Rabit pie, that helped.

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

    by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Friday February 11, 2005 @06:43PM (#11647453) Homepage Journal
    Nice. How can we get back to that kind of farming? That's a question I've had for a long time.

    I've got a few good ideas- but they both drive the free traitors and the libertarians crazy:

    Limit beef in the United States to be sold to the consumer within the state where it was raised- no interstate beef shipments, no cheap labor states competing with expensive labor states, no huge factories in the midwest selling to the big cities on the coasts.

    Cut farm subsidies for any company/farm that exports outside of the United States- farm subsidies were supposed to be to maintain domestic control over the food supply, not to give agribusinesses a cheaper price than small substinence farmers in thrid world nations.

    Limit growers to one head per half acre of land- correct grazing ratio, no larger herds allowed.

    But like I said, all of these suggestions would drive the free market Randroids nuts. Our best bet WITHIN the free market structure is:

    Find a local grower of organic beef. Inspect his farm yearly. Get a good sized freezer and buy from him once a year- a quarter beef can easily feed a family of four for a year, and at current small town butchering rates, is about half the cost of what you get in the grocery store.

The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin