"Modeling Object Manipulation in Cephalopods: Big Brains, Soft Bodies - the Hyper-Redundant Path-Not-Taken by Vertebrates"
Speaker: Prof. Frank W. Grasso
BioMimetic & Cognitive Robotics Laboratory
Dept. of Psychology, Brooklyn College CUNY
Date: 06 August 2012 Time: 12:00 - 14:00
Location: "Stelios Orphanoudakis" Seminar Room, FORTH. Heraklion, Crete.
Host: Dimitris Tsakiris


Modern cephalopods are an evolutionary success story based on brain and body architectures that are fundamentally different from those of vertebrates, like mammals, birds and even fish. Large-brained, with soft bodies, and sophisticated learning, sensory and motor capabilities, their modern forms, the coleiods, are descended from behaviorally sophisticated ancestors, that precede the most primitive vertebrates in the fossil record and precede the boney fishes by hundreds of millions of years. Those eons of competition with and predation on the diverse forms of marine life have lead to cumulative specializations of morphology, neural circuitry and behavior that offer a plethora of existence proofs for the feasibility of soft, hyper-redundant of robotic systems.

This talk will discuss both in vivo studies and in studies with artificial models of two such highly derived cephalopod adaptations: the octopus sucker and the squid tentacle. These studies aim to advance our understanding of the coordination and control of dexterous soft limbs and appendages. The sucker, acting in coordination with the arm enables fine and forceful manipulation of objects by the octopus. The tentacle enables a high-speed, accurate and ballistic grasp of relatively distant objects by the squid.

This talk will introduce some of the under-appreciated aspects of the biomechanics and neural architecture that support these abilities and will also describe studies using the Artificial and Biological Soft Actuator Manipulator Simulator (ABSAMS), a physically and physiologically constrained computer simulation environment employed to study 3d models of soft systems and their control. Results from simulations of the squid tentacle strike and octopus sucker attachment as modeled in ABSAMS and the insights those simulations offer into controlling soft, hyper-redundant appendages will be discussed and compared with results from in vivo studies. Finally, I will discuss implications these studies present for the development of flexible object manipulation devices with cephalopod-like properties in man-made technologies.


Professor Frank W. Grasso is the director of the BioMimetic and Cognitive Robotics laboratory at the City University of New York in Brooklyn, NY, USA. He was born outside Boston, Massachusetts, and did his undergraduate degree in Biology and Biotechnology at the nearby Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He studied human neuroanatomy and biophysics at the University of Vermont and earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Behavior at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His thesis work focused on self-organizing computational models of visual function and neurophysiology. He did post-doctoral research in modeling bioacoustics and natural signal processing in the department of BioMedical Engineering at Boston University. He then moved to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he began collaborating with members of the MIT AUV lab to build intelligent, lobster-inspired robots. That research lead to investigations of the spatial distributions of chemicals by the action of turbulence to support olfactory guided navigation. In 1999, he moved to CUNY to found the biomimetic and cognitive robotics laboratory, which focuses on the development of bio-inspired and bio-constrained robotics to study the control and coordination of behavior by brains, using invertebrate models such as crustaceans and cephalopods.

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