Innovation That Matters


3D printed underwater robot propels itself with undulating fins


Inspired by cuttlefish, this new autonomous underwater robot propels itself with undulating fins, making it ideal for a variety of tasks.

German automation technology company Festo uses nature as the inspiration for its automated animals. Previous creations include Aquajellies (a jellyfish-like collection of robots that work together in small spaces), AquaPenguins and the Aqua_ray. The company’s next project is more mobile and able to cover greater ground.

The BionicFinWave is an autonomous, underwater robot capable of swimming with nearly no churn of water. The undulating fin movement of the BionicFinWave was inspired by the marine planarian, cuttlefish and Nile perch. Additionally, the robot’s flexible materials make it ideal for industry equipment inspections and data monitoring.

Sensors register its distance from other objects and track the depth of water in which it is swimming. The information transmits wirelessly and includes the ability to monitor temperature and a variety of other measurements. The robot’s two side fins are made of flexible silicon which allows for the undulating movements of fish. Other components, including the joints and connecting rod, are 3D printed. The robot swims sideways, backwards and forwards, and the fins are able to work independently of one another. The innovation was recently introduced at a global trade show, and the development of its technology and design continues.

While much attention has been focused on driverless cars, other autonomous devices are also manoeuvring their way into citizens’ lives. Interestingly, a number of recent projects have taken their design inspiration from nature, and specifically, animals or insects. For example, the wireless flying robotic insect has a photovoltaic cell attached that gathers the energy to make the machine to fly. Back in the water, an eel robot has chemical, physical and biological sensors embedded within it. The sensors take measurements at different locations and transfers the data back to a linked computer in real-time. Other than healthcare, what other industries could benefit from the shrinking sizes of new technology designs?



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