Octopus Arms Found to Have "Minds" of Their Own

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"This work quantifies in a very nice way what we have suspected based on the large amount of nerves in the octopuses and from the behavior of severed arms during predation," said James Wood of the National Center for Cephalopods at the University of Texas in Galveston.

"Arms have a lot of autonomy and the central brain of an octopus gives high-level commands but may not be aware of the details—in other words, there is a lot of processing of information in the arms that never makes it to the brain," he added.

Robotic Arms

This research shows the mechanism by which octopuses are able to operate an arm that has a nearly infinite range of motion. This has been a long-term goal of the Israeli researchers not only because of their interest in nature, but also to learn how to produce a flexible and robust robotic arm.

"A flexible [robot] arm would not be constricted by the environment. It would be a better robot for unpredicted situations such as a natural disaster or surgery in a delicate area," said Hochner. "It would have infinitely large degrees of freedom which are not constrained by the fixed joints of other robots that are currently used."

Now that the researchers have figured out how octopuses control their flexible arms, the next challenge is to find a material that can replicate the property of an octopus arm. Currently nothing comes close, said Hochner.

In the meantime, scientists will remain awed by the intelligence of octopuses, which are thought to be the most intelligent of the invertebrates (species that have no spine).

"This [research] shows that centralized processing of all incoming information is not the only way to develop a neural network," said Wood. "Interestingly, a significant number of computer science folks take an interest in cephalopods. This gives them one more reason to do so."

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