Scientists Are Studying Octopus Movements To Develop Advanced Robots

The hunting skills of octopuses are being used to develop next-gen robots. A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota has shown that sea predators use certain tactics depending on the prey they are stalking. The results of the study were published in the journal Current Biology.

Researchers found that octopuses pounced on crabs with a cat-like movement. However, when hunting shrimp, they were more careful to avoid spooking the prey.

"Normally, when you look at an octopus for a short while, nothing is repeatable. They squirm around, and just look weird in their exploratory movements," said Trevor Wardill, an assistant professor at the university's College of Biological Sciences (CBS).

People look at a day octopus, also known as the big blue octopus, at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California on May 27, 2021, during a media preview of the indoor exhibition "Coral Reefs: Nature's Underwater Cities." Researchers are studying if octopuses prefer certain limbs over others for different activities. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

The study aims to offer a better understanding of how octopuses use their arms to aid efforts to develop next-generation, highly manipulative soft robots.

Funding and support for this work has been provided by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, a U.S. Navy department tasked to maintain "future naval power and preserve national security."

Wardill and colleagues investigated whether octopuses preferred certain arms to others when hunting, rather than using each arm equally. They placed different types of prey, including crabs and shrimp, into tanks where an octopus lurked in an ornamental SpongeBob Squarepants den.

By videoing the results, they realized that the octopus would have one eye facing outward, alerting it to when to time a lunge for its victim.

Because crabs move slowly while shrimp can flick their tails to escape quickly, each type of prey potentially requires different hunting tactics.

The work demonstrates how, for creatures whose movement appears unpredictable, the hunting behavior was actually notably repeatable.

One of the next steps is to study how neurons facilitate arm movements.

Trevor Wardill said: "Octopuses are extremely strong. For them, to grasp and open a door is trivial, given their dexterity".

"If we can learn from octopuses, then we can apply that to making an underwater vehicle or soft robot application."

Underwater vehicles inspired by octopuses could play a crucial role in deep ocean exploration.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.