8 SERVO 05.2015
Scientists from the University of Southampton
( www.southampton.ac.uk), Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT, web.mit.edu), and the Singapore-MIT
Alliance for Research and Technology ( smart.mit.edu)
recently revealed an "octopus robot" that achieves
unprecedented speed and acceleration. Its physical
resemblance to a real cephalopod is actually pretty iffy, as it
doesn't have any arms or hearts (real ones have three) and
doesn't squirt ink, but it does use the same form of
Like the octopus, it is inflated with water which is
expelled to push it along. Rather than a muscular mantle,
the bot's body is made up of a thin elastic outer hull with a
3D printed skeleton. It has no moving parts; rather, it just
deflates and shoots water out of its base to propel itself
forward. It's basically just a water balloon with fins, but the
30 cm ( 12 in) unit can accelerate up to 10 body lengths in
less than a second.
Reportedly, in a recent lab test, it accelerated a 1 kg ( 35
oz) payload up to 9. 7 kph ( 6 mph) in less than a second.
Southampton calculated that this is equivalent to putting
350 kg (772 lb) into a Mini Cooper and accelerating from 0
to 97 kph ( 60 mph) in one second while submerged.
According to Dr. Gabriel Weymouth of the
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute, "Man-made
underwater vehicles are designed to be as streamlined as
possible, but — with the exception of torpedoes which use
massive amounts of propellant — none of these vehicles
achieve speeds of even a single body length per second or
accelerations of 0.1 g, despite significant mechanical
complexity. Rigid bodies always lose energy to the
surrounding water, but the rapidly shrinking form of the
robot actually uses the water to help propel its ultra-fast
escape, resulting in 53 percent energy efficiency, which is
better than the upper estimates for fast-starting fish."
No immediately practical applications were cited, but it
was suggested that it could lead to new developments
where drag is a critical factor, including airplane wing design
and shape-changing biological systems.
Octopus robot achieves
unparalleled speed and
by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
Robotic Valet Saves Time, Space
At least two dozen companies are in the business of
manufacturing automated parking systems (APSs), which
aim to provide automobile storage using less space than a
standard parking garage and with better efficiency than
human valets. Most APSs are not fully robotic but are
basically large-scale versions of the storage and retrieval
systems you might find in any automated warehouse. An
exception is Ray™— a highly sophisticated system from
Serva Transport Systems GmbH ( serva-ts.de). The first Ray
installation was put into operation at the Dusseldorf Airport
last year, where it is allotted 249 dedicated parking spaces.
Reportedly, Ray can park cars 60 percent faster than a
human driver using half the space, and costs only $5.50 per
hour to operate.
Ray is more properly described as an automated guided
vehicle (AGV) that — when you reduce it to the lowest
common denominator — is a highly enhanced robotic
forklift. Enhancements include a 360° camera system that
measures the car and any protrusions (thus determining
how large a space it needs), documents any existing
damage (can't forget about lawyers), and checks the license
plate to identify registered users.
Ray can move along at up to 3 mps ( 10 mph) while
carrying a three ton auto. It's powered by a 48V lithium-ion
battery, so if the grid goes down you can still get your car
back. You can even use a smartphone app to make
arrangements and — if the return flight is delayed — let Ray
know that you'll be late. It's a bit more expensive than self-parking, but if you're in a hurry, $40 per day (or $5.50 per
hour) may not seem so bad. Serva mentioned that more
installations are slated for 2015, but didn't specify where.
The Ray APS, from