Feb.5, 2015

Scientists have developing an ultra-fast 3D printed octopus-like robot which they say could revolutionise man-made underwater vehicles.

Cephalopods, such as the octopus, are capable of high-speed escapes by filling their bodies with water and then quickly expelling it to dart away. Inspired by the ability of cephalopods, scientists from the University of Southampton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology built a deformable octopus-like robot with a 3D printed skeleton with no moving parts and no energy storage device other than a thin elastic outer hull.

The robot is capable of accelerating up to ten body lengths in less than a second, according to the scientists.

"Man-made underwater vehicles are designed to be as streamlined as possible, but with the exception of torpedoes, which use massive amounts of propellant, none of these vehicles achieve speeds of even a single body length per second or accelerations of 0.1g, despite significant mechanical complexity," said Gabriel Weymouth, Lecturer for the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute at the University of Southampton, the lead author of the study.

"Rigid bodies always lose energy to the surrounding water, but the rapidly shrinking form of the robot actually uses the water to help propel its ultra-fast escape, resulting in 53 per cent energy efficiency, which is better than the upper estimates for fast-starting fish."

The 30cm long self-propelling robot is inflated with water and then rapidly deflates by shooting the water out through its base to power its propulsion and acceleration. As the rocket contracts, it can achieve more than 2.6 times the thrust of a rigid rocket doing the same manoeuvre. The polycarbonate skeleton inside, which was made on a 3D printer, keeps the balloon tight and the final shape streamlined, while fins on the back keep it going straight.

In recent laboratory tests, the robot accelerated a one kilogram payload up to 6mph in less than a second, which is equivalent to a mini-cooper carrying an additional 350kg of weight (bringing the total weight of the car to 1,000kg) accelerating from a standstill to 60mph in one second – underwater.

This performance is unprecedented in man-made underwater vehicles, the university said.

The researchers calculate that making the robot bigger would improve its fast-starting performance. The goal is to develop artificial underwater vehicles that can match the speed, manoeuvrability and efficiency of their biological inspirations.

Mr Weymouth added: "Underwater exploration of these environments is very difficult and potentially dangerous, particularly because our vehicles are often unwieldy.

"Robots that can greatly deform their shape can improve our ability to speed-up manoeuvres and touch obstacles softly, helping man-made vehicles interact with their environments faster and more naturally."



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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J. D. Quinn wrote at 5/31/2015 9:01:53 AM:

For more on this principle, check out this paper, ref http://arxiv.org/pdf/1409.3984v2.pdf

James H wrote at 2/7/2015 12:10:11 AM:

Wow, calling that a robot is massive overstatement. More like a shaped balloon with a plastic nozzle. By that definition, every kid who lets the air out of an inflated balloon has created his own flying drone! This is a theoretical propulsion concept for a future robot, at best. If there is more to the project, I wish they'd shown us that instead.

Fred Sena wrote at 2/6/2015 4:20:56 PM:

It's fun to read everything in a serious tone and then finally watch the video: "Yep.. fewummmmm" That's a great project indeed!

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