This ‘squidbot’ jets around and takes pics of coral and fish — ScienceDaily


Engineers at the University of California San Diego have built a squid-like robot that can swim untethered, propelling itself by generating jets of water. The robot carries its own power source inside its body. It can also carry a sensor, such as a camera, for underwater exploration.

The researchers detail their work in a recent issue of Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

“Essentially, we recreated all the key features that squids use for high-speed swimming,” said Michael T. Tolley, one of the paper’s senior authors and a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego. “This is the first untethered robot that can generate jet pulses for rapid locomotion like the squid and can achieve these jet pulses by changing its body shape, which improves swimming efficiency.”

This squid robot is made mostly from soft materials such as acrylic polymer, with a few rigid, 3D printed and laser cut parts. Using soft robots in underwater exploration is important to protect fish and coral, which could be damaged by rigid robots. But soft robots tend to move slowly and have difficulty maneuvering.

The research team, which includes roboticists and experts in computer simulations as well as experimental fluid dynamics, turned to cephalopods as a good model to solve some of these issues. Squid, for example, can reach the fastest speeds of any aquatic invertebrates thanks to a jet propulsion mechanism.

Their robot takes a volume of water into its body while storing elastic energy in its skin and flexible ribs. It then releases this energy by compressing its body and generates a jet of water to propel itself.

At rest, the squid robot is shaped roughly like a paper lantern, and has flexible ribs, which act like springs, along its sides. The ribs are connected to two