Robotics engineers are developing equipment to help doctors operate in tight spaces in the body using minimally invasive surgical techniques. One innovation in this field is inspired by the highly flexible arm, or tentacle, of the octopus.

Consider: The octopus can grab, hold, and squeeze objects with its eight extendable and flexible arms, even in tiny spaces. Not only can the octopus bend its tentacles in any direction but it can also stiffen different sections of its arms as needed.

Researchers believe that a similarly soft and flexible robotic arm would be invaluable in performing minimally invasive surgery. This kind of equipment could make it possible to operate on patients who otherwise would have to undergo more complex procedures.

See the flexible tentacles of the octopus in action

Such a robotic arm has already been developed and is being used in simulated operations. One part of the 135-millimeter (5 in.) arm can manipulate soft internal organs by lifting and holding them without causing any damage to them, while another part performs the actual operation. According to Dr. Tommaso Ranzani, a member of the team that developed the equipment, “we believe this system will be the start for new and improved versions with more advanced features.”

A soft and flexible robotic arm would be invaluable in surgery

What do you think? Did the arm of the octopus evolve? Or was it designed?