Advanced Robotics – The Octopus

NPDARPA and the Future of Soft Robotics

By James W Astrada


With the recent release of information concerning humanoid robots this last week, DARPA has also stated the newest creation mainly used for spy operations: “the octopus robot.”  Scientists stated on Thursday August 16th that they have developed a soft-bodied robot inspired by the squid or octopus that can crawl, camouflage and hide from infrared cameras.  The robot also contains the intelligence to hide itself or use camouflage when required to do so.  In conjunction with the Department of Defense, this is yet another creation to hit the technological world and its arms race.

The project between Harvard and DARPA investigated the squid’s attributes and properties to help advance soft robotics.  The main goals of the project were to utilize the squid’s abilities to camouflage itself when in danger and possibly acquire other abilities of simpler animals.  Some of the technological breakthroughs were to allow this robot to hide itself in natural environments and change shape if required to do so.  Although fairly successful in trials, the team noted that there was some difficulty in the robot’s ability in masking itself against predators.

The robot has a complex network of micro thin tubules under its ‘skin’ allow it to change colors with dyes pumped in by scientists.  There were also temperature controlled liquids added in order to mask itself from infrared technology or detection.  This color changing robot has the ability to move at about 40 meters per hour and without the fluid 67 meters per hour.  Although scientists claim that the speed is unimportant, the ability to change color to halt detection is as little as 30 seconds. Although scientists claim that it is undecided as of where the robots will play a part in today’s military, due to its inexpensive nature soft robotics is headed for extreme discoveries.  The ultimate plan is to have secure visible robots for search and rescue missions as the humanoid robots plan to do as Dr. Morin from Harvard University stated:

“The nice thing about these systems is that their properties are very different from conventional robots. You get pretty complicated motions from pretty simple systems. For a mission like search and rescue, these kinds of robots could in principle be throwaway. So if you took a $25,000 robot and sent it in and the building falls down, then that is a real issue. If you send one in which is $100 and the roof falls in, you really don’t care.”

As far as price goes, the Department of Defense and DARPA will have no objections as the cost for each robots amounts to $100.  Although search and rescue missions are in the minds of scientists, DARPA plans to utilize them for future military defense missions.  Coupled with DARPA’s other robots like the Cheetah robot that broke the robot land speed record of 18 miles per hour on a treadmill and the Meshworm robot with the ability to withstand heavy damage and forcing itself into tight spaces, this new discovery will prove useful in military operations.  The idea of tiny robots doing reconnaissance or military operations is not unheard of in our time.  Many films especially Minority Report (2002) displayed tiny spider-like nano-robots scanning the eyes of citizens in order to identify them.  Although John Anderton tried to hide underneath the ice cold water, the robots had the ability to sense changes in the atmosphere, noises, and used electro shock techniques to subdue the individual.

Whether or not DARPA plans to bring these Hollywood ideas to life for future military applications, the idea is under scrutiny by those fearing a police state or domination by A.I.  The future of robotics is promising and can be used to help humanity rather than subdue it.  These types of robots can be used in the medical field to search and destroy cancerous cells or other anomalies that science is having a hard time identifying.  The idea has been mentioned for using nanotechnology in medicine deeming it “nanomedicine.”  Everything we do has the potential for being used to create wonders or horrors.  Each individual or group has the power to make the decisions for side they choose.  Sometimes, the decisions was not intended for its results; however sometimes things go wrong.  Great care has to be used when crossing into a world where we could end up destroyed due to our own creations.


Carl Franzen. “Soft Robots That Can Camouflage Themselves Are Coming.” TPM Idea Lab (August 2012).

Bailey Johnson. “Soft, Squishy Octopus Robot with Built-In Camouflage.” CBS News (August 2012).

Will Oremus. “New DARPA Weapon: The Slowest Robot Ever.” (August 2012).

Staff. “DAPRA: Soft-bodied Robot Could Be Used for Spy Ops.” The Petri Dish (August 2012).

Gaur A, Midha A, Bhatia AL. Significance of nanotechnology in medical sciences. Asian J Pharm 2008; 2:80-5.

Herbert Ernest and Rahul Shetty. “Impact of Nanotechnology on Biomedical Sciences: Review of Current Concepts on Convergence of Nanote.” AZojono: Journal of Nanotechnology Online (May 2005).

© Copyright 2012. James Astrada.Impact of Nanotechnology on Biomedical Sciences: Review of Current Concepts on Convergence Of Nanote


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