‘Ultragentle’ Robotic Arm Can Grab Onto Delicate Marine Creatures

Wyss Institute

Life at the deep ends of the ocean is vastly different than the one up on dry land. And it gets stranger and stranger the deeper you go. In addition to that, a lot of the creatures that live deep in the ocean have a tendency to be soft-bodied, which makes it quite difficult for the marine researchers to, well… research them. 

Our world is filled with hard machines with sharp edges but without those machines we cannot go into the depths of the oceans. So how can we safely collect these creatures without harming them when just a little pressure can cause permanent damage?

One solution was to simply grab them into pressurized containers and bring them up to the surface but in order to better understand them, the researchers could also benefit from inspecting them then and there, as they are and go about their daily life and let them go minutes later. 

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In order to achieve that, researchers at the Harvard Wyss Institute decided to also go soft and pursue a more… noodle-looking device that, when not activated, behaved pretty much in the same way cooked spaghetti does. 

Each one of its noodly appendages is actually made out of an elastic silicone matrix that is actually much stronger than it seems at first glance. When hydraulic pressure is applied the small fibers inside stiffen up while still maintaining a certain softness of touch. This allows the machine to scoop whatever creature it needs to scoop up gently but firmly, without harming it. 

The device was so far only tested with common jellyfish but, according to the researchers, it can be scaled up or down to deal with different types of animals and be attached to a submersible. But because it’s so adjustable in so many ways, it can be used as a handheld device just fine, depending on what the needs of the researchers are at the time. 

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