Your underwater city was rocked by an earthquake and its protective dome has sprung a leak. You've evacuated most of the citizens, but as mayor, you must stay behind and try to contain the damage. The water is rising. The glass continues to crumple - it seems like the end. But look! An underwater robot octopus has come to your rescue!
At least one of those things may soon be a reality. Science often has to bow to the demands of reality and work on tiresome informational details that make no difference to the layman but are crucial to the success of important, if overlooked, problems that humanity faces. Sometimes, however, organizations like the European Commission decide to indulge everyone's childhood sense of delight and fund the construction of a fully-functional, underwater robot search-and-rescue octopus.
Octopuses have amazing dexterity and freedom of motion. They also have a complicated musculature found elsewhere only in tongues and elephant's trunks. They don't rely on bones to create a frame that can then be manipulated. The muscles themselves shorten and elongate, and stiffen, to accomplish whatever task is at hand. Because they aren't rigid, octopuses can squeeze themselves through tiny spaces and deftly grasp and manipulate objects.
Copying such a structure was difficult, since engineering often starts with the same rigid skeleton that most biological creatures do. Using a steel cable wound with more nylon cables and covered in silicon, researchers came up with a 17 inch long tentacle that can grab and manipulate objects by softly winding around them, then stiffening until the tentacle is rigid. The texture of the silicon keeps the object from slipping.
There are plenty of applications for such technology, above and below the surface of the water. But the European Commission is not letting us down. The goal is to make a full, eight-armed, octopus robot prototype by the end of 2013. Which should give us just enough time to name it. Octobot? Roboctopus? Squidroid?