Hydrostatic Muscles as Inspiration for Soft Robotics
The Octopus vulgaris arm is a remarkable example of muscular hydrostat with extraordinary motor capabilities in the absence of a rigid skeleton. This structure offers both a skeletal-like support and works as an actuator for the arm movements generation. We aim at elucidating the mechanisms of neural control and coordination of muscle cell ensembles with particular attention to their implementation in a soft-robotic environment.
After setting the bases for control principles of the Octopus vulgaris arm crown (Zullo et al., 2009; Zullo and Hochner 2011; Levy et al., 2016) we are now investigating the intrinsic muscle organization and mechanics to gather insights for the design and control of new deformable materials. During the OCTOPUS project with Prof. Caldwell from the IIT Advanced Robotics and Dr. Mazzolai from the IIT Center for Micro-BioRobotics, we investigated the motor control developed in this animal as a source of inspiration for neuroscientists and bio-roboticists, particularly in the emerging field of soft-robotics (Fiorito et al., 2014; Kang et al., 2016; Guglielmino et al. 2013). The next challenge is to build artificial muscles conveying both deformable properties and ability to produce force over a wide variation of lengths, two of the properties fundamental to the octopus arm, and that can be employed for human assistive technologies and muscle prosthesis. We are also interested in deciphering the molecular determinants of muscle formation and regeneration, in collaboration with Prof. Sambuceti of the IRCCS San Martino Hospital. We found that octopuses share common and conserved ontogenetic pathway of morphogenesis with other metazoans (Fossati et al. 2014; Zullo et al. 2017) and this could be potentially unlocked to promote regeneration in animals and organs with limited regeneration capabilities (Fossati et al., 2013; Nödl et al., 2015; Zullo, 2017; Zullo et al., 2018).