Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Office of Naval Research has awarded Caterina Lamuta, a University of Iowa assistant professor of mechanical engineering, funding through the 2023 Young Investigator Program to conduct innovative scientific research that will benefit science and technology for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

Lamuta's project is intended to create “Softopus,” a soft underwater robot with the form and capabilities of a real octopus. The intelligent robot will be capable of performing adaptive texture modulation, manipulation, and locomotion at the same time.

This means Softopus will be able to change the roughness of its skin for camouflage purposes or to improve the hydrodynamic drag while swimming. It can shed biofilms, which are material that can deteriorate submerged surfaces, such as equipment or vehicles. And the robot’s tentacles will have the ability to grasp and move objects, and it will be able to move and crawl in the ocean. 

The goal for Softopus is to perform underwater monitoring, rescue, and assembly operations. 

Lamuta was awarded $502,242 over a three-year period for the project titled “Softopus: A Cephalopods-inspired Intelligent Soft Robot for Sensing, Manipulation, Locomotion, and Texture Modulation." Cephalopods are types of mollusks, such as octopus, squid, or nautilus. 

Lamuta is among 25 Young Investigator Program recipients chosen from more than 170 applicants. The highly competitive program targets early career researchers who demonstrate prior academic achievement and potential for significant scientific breakthrough. 

Lamuta has gained positive attention for her work previously. She was named an Early Career Scholar of the Year at UI earlier this year and received a Young Investigator Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.