A Deep Sea Robot With A Gentle Touch

feb22016Marine biologists must use robots to collect ocean samples that are too deep for divers to get. However, the awkward metal robot hands would often damage or destroy the very fragile samples they were collecting. Thanks to a Harvard engineer there is now a solution: soft robot hands!

When engineer Robert J. Wood saw a video of specimens being damaged during their collection, he knew he could do something to help. With the aid of biologist David Gruber, the team created two different designs for soft robot “grippers” that they believe will greatly improve underwater collecting and could be used in other fields such as underwater archaeology. The first of the soft robotic designs coils like a snake and is good for getting into tight spaces and gripping unusually shaped objects; the second design features soft finger-like grabbers that can gently pick up samples. The scientists’ biggest challenge was making sure the hands could handle the wide variety of sizes and weights of samples they would encounter on the ocean floor. So, to test them the team purchased many different kinds of vegetables from the produce store, tied them to a metal grate, and sank them in a test tank to see how well the hands could collect them. Once the hands had passed the vegetable tests, they were ready for the real deal collecting coral in the Red Sea, a test they passed with flying colors.

The scientists aren’t stopping at improving sample collecting, they think the soft hands can be used for collecting data and performing experiments underwater without having to actually remove the samples. This will help protect and reduce stress on the ecosystems and organisms that are being studied.

Want to learn more? Visit http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160120111515.htm

Feb 2, 2016

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