8 Underwater Robots Inspired by Nature and Animals
Nature’s ability to evolve through natural selection, genetic drift, and other mechanisms has become an inspiration to modern (and historic) design choices. This process of designing based on natures problem solving through evolution has been given the name – biomimicry. The Biomimicry Institute, established in 2006, is working towards a future where it is commonplace to “transfer ideas, designs, and strategies from biology to sustainable human systems design.” (https://biomimicry.org/donate/)
The Biomimicry Institute’s catalog website, AskNature (https://asknature.org/), is a free resource with thousands of resources, biological strategies, and inspired ideas that has proven to be a fantastic design starting point for students and professionals.
1. Aquajellies 2.0
Designed to mimic the tentacle swimming method of jellyfish, the Aquajellies are able to fluidly move through water. The robots use an electrically controlled actuator that moves up and down depending on how much the tentacles need to move. Continued research into swarming capabilities and condition monitoring on a remote device (or phone) is being conducted.
Monitoring nature without disturbing nature has always been a concern of researchers, as disturbing the nature that is being research can not only permanently disrupt an ecosystem, but also tamper the data. The climate jellyfish spy developed by a team at Florida Atlantic University is designed based on a jellyfish with the purpose of monitoring and studying reefs without harming the living organisms. The soft tentacles powered by water pumps allow the robot to move gently.
3. The Camouflage Hydrogel Robot
Researchers at MIT have developed a hydrogel actuating underwater robot inspired by leptocephalus, a flat and transparent larva of an eel. The nearly transparent (underwater) hydrogel allows the robot to blend in with its surroundings
Cuttlefish Fin Robots
A slightly different concept of underwater soft robotics is the Sepios. This underwater robot consists of a central and sealed electronics hub – the front of which is a clear screen for a camera, and the back has several cables running through connectors to each set of fin servos and an umbilical cord that runs to the water surface.
The fins are split into sections that are each controlled with an individual servo with a range of 270 degrees. With no solid rotating thrusters, this is an elegant solution for moving through rough and dense vegetation underwater.
5. The Velox Robot
Designed and built by Pliant Energy Systems, the Velox robot is a much more versatile adaptation of the cuttlefish fins. The robot was designed to operate both underwater and on land with long fins on either side of its body powered by 16 actuators. On land, the robot can pivot the fins downward to act similarly to a snake’s movement. Underwater, the fins move gracefully, similar to a cuttlefish, but with a human touch and more versatility.
Manta Ray, Stingray, Cow-Nosed Ray Robots
The plastic body and soft silicone fins of the Mantabot allow it to move similarly to a cow-nosed ray underwater. One of the primary goals of underwater robotics development is moving with as little energy as possible. The ray family of animals can hold position and accelerate with minimal energy required.
Designed and built by researchers at the University of Virginia, this robot may work in a military or scientific environment focused on underwater scouting missions.
7. Manta Ray-Inspired Robot
A much smaller variation on the manta ray robotics designs is a soft underwater robot developed by researchers at the Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. Spanning only 9.3 cm (3.6 in) or 18.5 cm including the tail (7.2 in), this little robot is able to mimic the swimming technique of a manta ray. The fins are built with hydrogel and are controlled by ionically conductive electrodes and electric fields rather than servos and mechanical actuators.
Sea Snake Robots
8. The Eelume Robot
This bio inspired robot uses the biological efficiency of sea snakes intended for underwater inspections, maintenance, and repair. The Eelume moves through the water with lateral movements similar to snakes, paired with onboard thrusters for faster travel. The robot can also straighten out for more efficient longer travels.
According to the Eelume website, “Eelume vehicles are modular combinations of joints, thrusters and various payload modules. The slender body allows for precision hovering and maneuvering even in strong ocean currents.”
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