Manta Ray Robots to Serve as Underwater Spies

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-10 19:46

Marine life may soon be swimming alongside soft, squishy manta ray robots who have been deployed as spies in lakes and oceans.

Airborne drones are all the rage, and they frequently produce amazing bird's eye view footage and images. It only follows, therefore, that a drone should be used to explore the deep seas as well. Just imagine the footage that undersea drones and robots can come up with. They can explore places that humans can't reach and discover things that we may never know about without the use of the robots.

A little undersea drone
[Photo by Tiefeng Li/Zhejiang University

Scientists have created a robot that resembles a manta ray. It has roughly the same wing shape and a tail as well. The key in creating this robot is to make it as lifelike and inconspicuous as possible so as to not disturb marine life. Its softness is also important in making sure that the robot does not damage the coral reefs and other areas it will explore.

What are Manta Ray Robots Like?

The robot is mostly transparent. It also does not have rigid machinery or a motor, which the creators found a great way to get around. They used flexible dielectric elastomer polymer to create the fins. The battery will release a jolt that will make the fins flap up and down, enabling the manta ray robot to swim. Its tail, meanwhile, functions as a steering device.

The robot has a 22-centimeter wingspan and weighs about 90 grams. Its design is also meant to make it move faster than other robotic fish. It can swim six centimeters per per second, which is twice as fast as the previous record by robotic fish. It can also swim for three hours for every battery charge and has a small video camera for monitoring.

Three hours, however, may be too short a time to be underwater. Perhaps with further development, the robot's creators can extend the battery life to accommodate longer swimming times.

The robot's electronics also do not pose an electrocution threat to marine life around it. Its circuitry functions in such a way that it uses the water around the robot as grounding electrodes. The manta ray robots are also transparent, which is an important feature of the design. Undersea life will be more comfortable with transparent robots than with opaque ones.

Possible Functions

The soft, flexible polymer is also an important design feature. The robots will be swimming through coral reefs and ship wrecks, and it's important not to cause damage in these areas. Robots made of a harder, less flexible material may have a more difficult time navigating tight spaces. They also have a higher chance of causing damage, which researchers of course do not want.

As of now, however, the researchers have not yet tested the manta ray robots in practical applications. According to the study, “[t]he interest to create aquatic robots is further fueled by the mounting importance of ocean missions.” Thus, the robots probably have quite a lot of potential. It can contribute to maritime research, salvage efforts, or maybe even more.

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