How octopuses control the movement of their soft bodies is of interest to engineers who aim to design biologically inspired robots.
Dr. Guy Levy explained that due to people want to build soft robots for medical purposes and rescue operations. Such soft-bodied, octopus-inspired arms would be not limited by fixed joints. This could be suitable to access narrow, difficult to reach spaces – perhaps getting help to people trapped at the scene of a collapsed building.
To figure out the secrets of the octopus’s remarkably efficient movement, Dr. Levy and Prof Benny Hochner recorded a video of the animals from underneath as they crawled. They analyzed the material frame by frame and noticed that despite their bilateral symmetry octopuses can move in any direction relative to their body orientation.
Surprisingly, they found out that octopuses can push their body in only one direction by shortening and lengthening of their arms.
Dr. Levy explained, “So the octopus only has to decide which arm to use for the pushing – it doesn’t need to decide which direction this arm will push.”
“[It has] found a very simple solution to a potentially complicated problem – it just has to pick which arm to recruit.”
Furthermore, they are able to crawl in any direction no matter which way their body is facing because the creatures are able to push off any of their eight legs. And, uniquely, there is no rhythm or pattern to their undulating limb movements.
The scientists’ next step is to delve into the internal circuitry of the octopus nervous system, to find out exactly how this coordinated crawling is controlled.
Dr Levy added: “Every time we try to understand something new about the octopus, there are new surprises.”
The study is the first detailed analysis of exactly how octopuses manage to move without a rigid skeleton.