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New Robot Inspired by Squid
Flexible and Propels Itself Underwater

A team of scientists at the University of Southampton and University of Edinburgh have now developed a new underwater robot inspired by squids. This robot is flexible in nature and is capable of propelling itself through water in the same manner as the Aurelia aurita Jellyfish.

Video Credits: UoS News Desk, YouTube

The details about this robot are published in the journal, Science Robotics. The demonstrations by this robot show that the robot is capable of swimming just as quickly and efficiently as the squid and jellyfish, which inspired its design. This robot can prove to be useful for underwater exploration due to its lightweight design and soft exterior.

Dr Francesco Giorgio-Serchi, who is the co-author of the paper and is currently serving as Lecturer and Chancellor’s Fellow at the School of Engineering at University of Edinburgh said, “The fascination for organisms such as squid, jellyfish and octopuses has been growing enormously because they are quite unique in that their lack of supportive skeletal structure does not prevent them from outstanding feats of swimming.”

Image Credits: Bujard et al., Sci. Robot. 6, eabd2971 (2021)

This robot is the first submersible to demonstrate the advantages of making use of resonance for underwater propulsion. This enables the robot to make use of little amount of power and also generate large water jets in order to push itself forward.

Thierry Bujard is the co author of the paper and a Masters student in Naval Architecture at the University of Southampton. Thierry designed and built the robot in a matter of months. She said, “Previous attempts to propel underwater robots with jetting systems have involved pushing water through a rigid tube but we wanted to take it further so we brought in elasticity and resonance to mimic biology.”

While adding further she said, “I was really surprised by the results, I was confident that the design would work but the efficiency of the robot was much greater than I expected.”

This robot is made out of rubber membrane enclosed around eight 3D Printed flexible ribs, together which form ‘propulsive bell’. A small piston is mounted at the top half of the robot which taps this bell so that the robot expands and springs back. This imitates the swimming technique of a jellyfish and makes jets of fluid which propels the robot through water.

When the piston mounted on this robot operates at the correct frequency, the robot is able to move at one body length per second and matches the efficiency of Aurelia aurita jellyfish. Jellyfish is the most efficient amongst all animals in mature and easily defeats the bony fish and running and flying animals.

The latest tests which were conducted show that this robot is ten to fifty times more efficient than a regular small underwater vehicle that is powered by propellers. With the help of its increased efficiency along with the advantages derived from the robot’s soft and flexible exterior make it ideal to operate and carry out tasks near sensitive environments such as the coral reef, archaeological sites etc.

Speaking about the further developments Dr Francesco Giorgio-Serchi said, “There are still many challenges and exciting possibilities to explore with soft underwater robotic technologies. We are now looking to extend the concept behind this robot to a fully manoeuvrable and autonomous underwater vehicle capable of sensing and navigating its environment.”





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