So far, the depths of the trenches are the largest area unknown to mankind. The high hydrostatic pressure exerted by water prevents conventional ships and submarines from working properly at pressures of 3,000 to 10,000 meters because they need to be covered with heavy metal shells, which makes their integrated electronic systems difficult to operate.
For many years, people have been studying how certain living creatures, such as octopuses and jellyfish, can withstand these extreme living conditions. Now, inspired by the structure of the snail fish in the Mariana Trench (Pseudoliparis swirei), a team of scientists has developed a silicone soft robot that can swim 10 kilometers deep.
The design of the robot allows it to swim in the 3,224-meter South China Sea and 10,900-meter Mariana Trench.
Guorui Li et al
“The design of the robot allows it to swim freely at a depth of 3,224 meters in the South China Sea and a depth of 10,900 meters in the Mariana Trench. Our work highlights the design potential of soft and light equipment used in extreme conditions,” the researcher The author confirmed and published in the journal. natural.
Imitation of snail fish
According to the authors, the Mariana snail fish found at a depth of 8,000 meters has “surprising” adaptability and mobility. The fish belongs to several universities in China. Its partially open skull and pectoral fins guide the mechanical design of the robot and have a visual similarity to the robot.
Comparison of robot and Mariana snail fish / Li et al
The soft and flexible robot is designed with a fish shape and two side fins. They are connected to the two electrode “muscles” of the robot and then to the battery. When they receive electrical energy, their muscles contract, causing tremor, which in turn causes the machine to move.
When your muscles receive electrical energy, they contract, causing tremor, which in turn causes the machine to move.
According to their creators, for this type of underwater machine, the electronic components are usually concentrated in the same area to cover them and protect them more effectively from stress. With this robot, the researchers decided to disperse and distribute them throughout the body of the robot and embed it in soft silicone. In this way, in addition to reducing costs, the stress between components under pressure is also reduced.
After the design was completed, the researchers verified the robot’s swimming ability in the pressurized water chamber of the laboratory. After connecting to the utility pole, the machine was tested at a depth of 70 meters and moved upstream in a circle at a speed of 3.16 cm per second.
The good results prompted scientists to check the position of the robot in the natural environment at a depth of about 3200 meters in the South China Sea and successfully swim at a speed of 5.19 cm/s.
As a final test, they sunk the robot into the Mariana Trench at a depth of 10,900 meters. In this case, the device was not released from the lander, but always remained connected to the traditional support submarine, which took the test images. During the 45 minutes that the test lasted, the robot successfully flapped its wings.
They proved in their research: “This soft robot can swim freely under hydrostatic pressures of up to 110 megapascals (MPa).” Despite this discovery, the researchers emphasized that there is still a long way to go in this field.
Future work will focus on the development of new materials and structures to improve the intelligence, versatility, maneuverability and efficiency of robots and soft equipment.
Guorui Li et al
The machines they developed were much slower than conventional submarines. It is not ready to withstand major interference and may be carried away by underwater currents. In addition, they added that their locomotive capacity must be optimized for practical applications.
But according to the author, deep-sea exploration can be used to perform tasks such as monitoring the ocean, cleaning and preventing marine pollution or protecting its biodiversity.
They concluded: “Future work will focus on the development of new materials and structures to improve the intelligence, versatility, maneuverability and efficiency of robots and soft equipment.”
Li Guorui et al. “The self-powered soft robot in the Mariana Trench.” natural (2021)