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Ever wanted to have the grip of an octopus? Researchers at Virginia Tech create an 'octo-glove'

Chanhong Lee, PhD student at Virginia Tech, is on the team of researchers who developed an underwater glove that mimics an octopus. Behind him is the team's advisor, Mike Bartlett, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.
Roxy Todd/ Radio IQ
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Chanhong Lee, PhD student at Virginia Tech, is on the team of researchers who developed an underwater glove that mimics an octopus. Behind him is the team's advisor, Mike Bartlett, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.

A team of researchers at Virginia Tech has developed an underwater glove designed to allow humans to have the grip of an octopus. The “octo-glove,” as the researchers have dubbed it, is black, with suction cups the size of raspberries on the fingertips that sense objects and pick them up. In trials, the glove has picked up a metal plate and a red toy truck.

“So when we wanted to develop a system that would allow a human to more easily grasp onto objects underwater, this example of the octopus was very inspiring for us,” said Mike Bartlett, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, and he led the team of researchers to create the octo-glove. He said they were inspired by the octopus’ intelligence, cleverness, and its strong ability to attach to objects and detach from them quickly.

He points to a scene in the documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” when the octopus covers itself with shells and rocks as camouflage. “To me that was an unbelievable feat,” Bartlett said. “To be able to grab onto so many things, but at the same time, within a second, let go of all those objects, and then run away.”

An octopus can have 2000 suckers on its body, and its brain is actually inside each of its eight arms. Barlett said he could see the technology helping underwater archeologists, rescuers, or scuba divers.

 Mike Bartlett is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, and he led the team of researchers to create the octo-glove.
Roxy Todd/ Radio IQ
/
Mike Bartlett is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, and he led the team of researchers to create the octo-glove.

The project has been several years in the making and includes graduate students and undergraduates who worked alongside researchers. “I get to work with a lot of really wonderful people on a project that I enjoy, and I get to use my skills in a way that’s useful,” said Austin Via, a senior at Virginia tech.

The octo-glove is part of a long-term research grant from the National Science Foundation, and the team at Virginia tech is collaborating with other universities and schools across the country.

Since the paper was published last week, Bartlett said they’ve been contacted by several people wanting to purchase the octo-glove. At this time, they don’t have plans to produce the glove for consumers, but they are talking about how the technology could one day be brought to market.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Updated: July 20, 2022 at 3:11 PM EDT
Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.