Video of the Day: Researchers Demonstrate Robot Octopus

Yeah, this isn't creepy at all. In the middle of a big water-filled tank on display at the FET11 European Future Technologies Conference and Exhibition sits the model of an octopus. Protruding from that static model is a waving, wiggling tentacle. No, it's not real; at least not in a biological sense. But it looks -- and acts -- like it is. This is a robot tentacle, a major step forward in bioengineering based on octopuses and cephalopods. Researchers in this field believe that, because the neurons of an octopus' tentacles are distributed much more evenly than anything found in vertebrates, robots based on these creatures would make far better robots than those we're currently designing.

"Long story short: Cephalopods don't have their neurons organized in the same way that we vertebrates do," explains Maggie Koerth-Baker, who recently released a video about cephalopod intelligence, on BoingBoing. "An octopus has as many neurons as a cat, but instead of relying on a central brain, the octopus' neurons are far more scattered. Some are centralized into what we might think of as a 'brain' -- in this case, a donut-shaped organ that actually wraps around the octopus' esophagus. But the bulk of the neurons are distributed throughout the octopus' body. When the octopus moves, the centralized and decentralized neurons work together, sharing information and the duties of processing and control."

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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