Science

This robot uses artificial muscles to move like an eel underwater

The bot operates with very little current, allowing it to swim without making any noise.

A translucent robot shaped like an eel that can swim silently underwater could help scientists understand more about marine life.

The bot, which was developed by engineers and marine biologists at the University of California, uses artificial muscles filled with water to propel itself rather than a noisy electric motor.

The 12in robot is connected to an almost-transparent electronics board that remains on the surface.

The team says the the bot is a key step toward a future where soft robots can swim in the ocean alongside marine life without disturbing or harming them.

Caleb Christianson, a PhD student at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, said: “Instead of propellers, our robot uses soft artificial muscles to move like an eel underwater without making any sound.”

The robot was tested inside salt water tanks filled with jellyfish, coral and fish.

The team used salt water to help generate the electrical forces to propel the robot, allowing pouches of water acting like artificial muscles.

The robot’s electronics deliver negative charges in the water just outside of the robot and positive charges inside of the robot that activate the muscles, the researchers said.

Eel-shaped robot.
(Christianson et al/Science Robotics)

The electrical charges, which the researchers said is safe for nearby marine life because it has very little current, cause the muscles to bend, allowing the robot to swim.

One of the study’s authors, Michael T Tolley, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Jacobs School at UC San Diego, said: “Our biggest breakthrough was the idea of using the environment as part of our design.

“There will be more steps to creating an efficient, practical, untethered eel robot, but at this point we have proven that it is possible.”

The team says the next steps will be to improve the shape and reliability of the robot and find ways to enable it to swim deeper in the ocean.

The research is published in the journal Science Robotics.

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