Scientists at the University of Southampton and the University of Edinburgh developed a flexible underwater robot that efficiently glides through the water in a manner that mimics squid and jellyfish.
In their study, published in Science Robotics, the publishers claim that their robot swims as efficiently as the sea creatures that inspired their design.
Squid and jellyfish-inspired soft robot
The researchers say that their soft robot could be used to carry out a number of underwater mission objectives due to the flexibility of its body and its agility in the water.
"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," co-author Dr. Francesco Giorgio-Serchi, from the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, explained in a press release.
The jellyfish is the most efficient animal in nature when its means of moving around is calculated in the context of the "cost of transport."
Resonance for underwater propulsion
The new robot, developed at the University of Southampton, is the first submersible to use resonance for underwater propulsion. This allows the robot to use very little power whilst generating large water jets for propulsion.
The mechanism consists of eight 3D-printed flexible ribs enclosed by a rubber membrane to form a "propulsive bell." The bell expands and then springs back with the help of a small piston to mimic the motions of a jellyfish. Using this technique, the robot can move at one body length per second and match the efficiency of the Aurella aurita jellyfish, the researchers say.
Promising future for soft robotics
"There are still many challenges and exciting possibilities to explore with soft underwater robotic technologies," Dr. Gabriel Weymouth, Associate Professor in the University's School of Engineering, who supervised the project, explained.
"We are now looking to extend the concept behind this robot to a fully maneuverable and autonomous underwater vehicle capable of sensing and navigating its environment," he continued.
The new jellyfish and squid-inspired robot joins a growing list of soft robotics innovations that have the potential to transform our capacity for underwater monitoring and exploration.