Novel Design Principles and Technologies for a New Generation of High Dexterity Soft-bodied Robots Inspired by the Morphology and Behaviour of the Octopus


BioRobotics Institute Role: 

Project Lifetime
Feb 2009 to Jul 2013

Research Program: 
Future and Emerging Technologies (FET), Embodied Intelligence
Grant no.: 
Dedicated website: 

The octopus is a marine invertebrate with amazing motor capabilities and intelligent behaviour. Its body has no rigid structures and has interesting characteristics, from an engineering viewpoint: infinite number of degrees of freedom (DOFs), bending in many different directions, variable and controllable stiffness, high dexterity, fine manipulation, highly distributed control. The octopus represents a biological demonstration of how effective behaviour in the real world is tightly related to the morphology of the body. The grand challenge of the OCTOPUS IP is investigating and understanding the principles that give rise to the octopus sensory-motor capabilities and at incorporating them in new design approaches and ICT and robotics technologies to build an embodied artefact, based broadly on the anatomy of the 8-arm body of an octopus, and with similar performance in water, in terms of dexterity, speed, control, flexibility, and applicability. The new technologies expected to result from the IP concern actuation (soft actuators), sensing (distributed flexible tactile sensors), control and robot architectures (distributed control, coordination of many dof), materials (variable stiffness), mechanisms (soft-bodied hydrostat structures), kinematics models. The final robotic octopus prototype will be capable of locomotion on different substrates, of squeezing into small apertures, of dextrous manipulation by coordinating the eight arms, of anchoring in order to exert
forces on external environment; of controlling a flexible structure with virtually infinite DOFs. This IP is expected to achieve new science and new technology, demonstrated by joint publications and patents, through a truly interdisciplinary research work programme, by a consortium of engineering and biology groups, each involving diverse disciplines and all experienced in biomimetics, possessing, as a consortium, the best expertise available in Europe for pursuing the objectives of the IP.

What we do: 

OCTOPUS studies the principles that give rise to the octopus sensory-motor abilities to define novel design principles and technologies for soft-bodied robots.
Bioengineering and biological methods are applied to study, measure and model octopus performance, with results of new scientific data beyond the state of the art, as well as novel design principles and specifications for robotics purpose. New tools and methods have been developed to study the octopus from an engineering viewpoint, offering novel instruments for biological studies too.
On the other side, bio-inspiration offers the possibility to use robotics and engineering approaches to contribute to insights into fundamental biological issues for scientific research.
The project is already advancing the state of the art in soft robotics (for new technologies, soft actuators, sensorized skin, simulation models for continuum structures, control architectures), as well as in other disciplines, namely biology and neuroscience, in the area related to the study of the octopus.
Having no rigid structures, OCTOPUS will be the world's first entirely soft robot, with eight flexible arms, able to reach impracticable places and simultaneously showing manipulation capability, which could open up new scenarios for marine exploration and underwater rescue.


- The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI, Jerusalem, Israel)
- The Weizmann Institute of Science (Weizmann, Rehovot, Israel)
- The University of Zurich (UZH, Zurich, Switzerland)
- The Italian Institute of Science (IIT, Genova, Italy)
- The University of Reading (UREAD, Reading, United Kingdom)
- The Foundation for Research and Technologies (FORTH, Heraklion, Crete, Greece)

Media - pictures: 



Follador M, Cianchetti M, Arienti A, Laschi C (2012) A general method for the design and fabrication of shape memory alloy active spring actuators. Smart Materials And Structures - 21 : 115029.
Margheri L, Laschi C, Mazzolai B (2012) Soft robotic arm inspired by the octopus. I. From biological functions to artificial requirements. Bioinsp. & Biomim. Jun;7(2):025004.
Mazzolai B, Margheri L, Cianchetti M, Dario P, Laschi C (2012) Soft robotic arm inspired by the octopus. II. From artificial requirements to innovative technological solutions. Bioinsp. & Biomim. Jun;7(2):025005.
Renda F, Cianchetti M, Giorelli M, Arienti A, Laschi C (2012) A 3D Steady State Model of a Tendon-Driven Continuum Soft Manipulator Inspired by Octopus Arm. Bioinsp. & Biomim. Jun;7(2).
Laschi C, Mazzolai B, Cianchetti M, Margheri L, Follador M, Dario P (2011) A Soft Robot Arm Inspired by the Octopus, Adv. Robotics 26 709-726.
Margheri L, Ponte G, Mazzolai B, Laschi C, Fiorito G (2011) Non invasive study of the Octopus vulgaris arm morphology using ultrasound. Journal of Experimental Biology 214, 3727-3731.
Calisti M, Giorelli M, Levy G, Mazzolai B, Hochner B, Laschi C, Dario P (2011) An octopus-bioinspired solution to movement and manipulation for soft robots. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics - 6 036002.
Cianchetti M, Arienti A, Follador M, Mazzolai B, Dario P, Laschi C (2011) Design concept and validation of a robotic arm inspired by the octopus. Materials Science and Engineering C 31 1230-1239.
Laschi C, Mazzolai B, Mattoli V, Cianchetti M, Dario P (2009) Design of a biomimetic robotic octopus arm Bioinspir. Biomim. Vol.4, No.1.

Meet the team