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Researchers built a robot squid that propels itself with a water jet

To help explore underwater environments without damaging coral or sea life, engineers from UC San Diego created a robot squid (via Hackster.io). Soft robots are less likely to harm aquatic life than rigid ones. Researchers used mainly soft materials like acrylic polymer to build the device, along with a few 3D printed and laser-cut rigid parts.

The team drew inspiration from the jet propulsion mechanism of real squid to help the robot swim by itself. It takes some water into its flexible body, where it also stores elastic energy. The robot can compress its body to release that energy and use a water jet to propel itself. The device can adjust the nozzle’s position, so it can swim in any direction.

The engineers claim the robot can travel around half a mile per hour, which is faster than most soft robots. The robot also has a waterproof compartment that can house a camera or other sensor, which is vital for recording data.

“Essentially, we recreated all the key features that squids use for high-speed swimming,” said Michael T. Tolley, a professor at the university’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and a senior author on a paper about the robot. “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.”

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Watch a Spot robot from Boston Dynamics explore an old mine

The ground is rocky and uneven. Old, rusted rails that used to carry loads of precious metals run the length of the path. Most wheeled robots would have trouble navigating this uneven surface, but it’s not a problem for Spot.

“This is one of the most advanced robots in the world.” Hao Zhang tells me. He’s a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, and he’s brought his department’s new robotic dog from Boston Dynamics to the Edgar Mine outside of Denver for testing. The school is one of the first customers to buy a Spot robot since the four-legged machines went on sale this summer.

Spot robot in Edgar Mine

A handler guides Spot the robotic dog with a proprietary tablet controller.


Agata Bogucka

Much of Zhang’s work in robotics involves exploring ways robots can take over dangerous jobs from people, like searching for survivors in a collapsed mine or inspecting nuclear facilities.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Zhang said. “I have been working on robots for more than 10 years, and we’ve never had such a robot that is so well designed that it can do a lot of things just out of the box.” 

Watch the video above to see how Spot handled its first test-run inside the mine.

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