Jellyfish-like robots could clean up the world’s oceans in the near future

June 14, 2023 | Biotechnology

Over the years, our oceans have unfortunately become highly polluted. Employing robots to master the art of collecting waste without destroying these sensitive ecosystems have gained attention. Though there are existing underwater robots that are used as tools for environmental remediation, they are mostly bulky with rigid bodies and are incapable of exploring and sampling in complex and unstructured environments. Furthermore, they are noisy due to the presence of electric motors and hydraulic pumps.

In order to address these problems, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) in Stuttgart decided to create a more suitable design by looking at nature for inspiration. They configured a jellyfish-inspired robot that is flexible, energy-efficient, with minimal noise.

In building the Jellyfish-Bot, the roboticists used electrohydraulic actuators which serve as artificial muscles (HASELs) that power the robot. Air cushions surround these muscles, other rigid and soft components, and makes the bot waterproof. 100 mW power supplied periodically causes the muscles to contract and expand, mobilizing the bot to swim and allowing it to circulate the water around it. This function makes the collection of objects and other waste particles underneath its body without a need for physical contact, ensuring safe interactions with the delicate environment. Afterwards, the litter is transported to the surface where it can be recycled.

Odoo text and image block
Odoo image and text block

The bots can operate either alone or with several in combination and they can work swiftly, reaching a speed of up to 6.1 cm/s. The prototype was developed first with only one electrode with six arms. In order to actuate them independently, the team divided the single electrode into separate groups. Four of the arms functioned as propellers while the other two acted as grippers. To steer the robot in different directions, the researchers only enabled a subset of arms. Moreover, two robots can cooperate in carrying heavy loads though this mechanism requires a wire.

With this, researchers had a newfound aim to produce wireless robots. They’ve already utilized functional modules during this experiment that will empower them for future wireless manipulation. Overall, the success of this study helps us save our oceans in an ingenious way. 

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