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A team of engineers from the University of California, San Diego has built a water-squid robot that can propel itself through water, just like a real mollusk. It could make important discoveries in the underwater world.

Engineers at the University of California, San Diego have built a squid-like robot that can swim without ties, propelling itself by generating jets of water. The robot carries its own source of energy in its body. It can also carry a sensor, such as a camera, for underwater exploration.

“In essence, we’ve recreated all the key features that squid use for high-speed swimming,” said Michael T. Tolley, co-author of work published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. “This is the first robot without additional connections, which can generate jet pulses for fast locomotion such as squid and can achieve these impulses by changing its body shape, which improves the efficiency of swimming,” he added.

Squid are some of the fastest swimmers in the ocean world. They generate special jets of water, by aspirating and expelling water, by the contractions of a muscle sac to propel themselves through water.

The robot carries its own energy source and is made of a soft acrylic polymer and some rigid, 3D printed parts. It can also be equipped with sensors and a room for exploring underwater worlds. The robot’s intention is to ensure that underwater life is protected.

Engineers first tested the robot in a water test bed in Professor Geno Pawlak’s lab at the San Diego Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. They then swam him in one of the tanks at the UC San Diego Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The team even managed to lead him around a large aquarium among live fish and corals. The next step is to improve the efficiency of the robot by processing the nozzle that expels water.

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