Soft robots from UC San Diego use jet propulsion to propel forward.

Benefits

  • Increased locomotion
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased efficiency
  • Reduced energy use

Applications

  • Underwater exploration
  • Medical procedures

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 9: Industry Innovation & Infrastructure

The Challenge

Robots are capable of moving at fast speeds, but soft robots, especially underwater, have trouble moving quickly due to the slow propagation of their components. These robots also need to use a lot of energy in order to move quickly and accurately, and if they are connected to an external power source, this can further decrease mobility.

Innovation Details

The soft robot is made from flexible acrylic polymers and rigid, 3D printed and laser cut parts. To move, the robot takes in a volume of water, expanding and storing elastic energy in its flexible outer body. Then, it compresses its body and generates a jet of water to propel itself forward, similar to a squid. Within the flexible outer body, there are flexible ribs that act as springs as the robot expands and contracts. At each end of the robot, there is a circular plate. At one end, the plate is attached to a nozzle that assists with the release of water to move. At the other end is a plate that can be attached to a waterproof camera or another type of sensor. The robot is able to move about 18 to 32 centimeters per second, faster than most existing soft robots.

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Biomimicry Story

Cephalopods such as squids swim by jet propulsion. A squid will fill its mantle cavity with water and then squeeze it out of its siphon, jetting the organism in the opposite direction. By pointing the siphon in different directions or changing the amount of water coming in or out, cephalopods can modify the direction and speed of their jet propulsion.