Skip to main content

Cornell’s lionfish-inspired robot uses artificial blood to stay powered up

Cornell University

There are all sorts of impressive robots which exist in labs around the world. However, many of the most innovative ones have to be tethered to a power source in order to function — which greatly limits their functionality. Those which don’t have to be tethered must battle against the limitation of short battery life.

A new robot developed by researchers at Cornell University could solve these problems, however. They have built a swimming soft robot, modeled on the lionfish, which contains a pair of electrodes and a circulating liquid electrolyte likened by its creators to a kind of robot blood. This allows it to store up energy for use powering itself during long-duration tasks. The circulating liquid powers pumps in the robot fish’s tail, dorsal and pectoral fins.

“In nature we see how long organisms can operate while doing sophisticated tasks. Robots can’t perform similar feats for very long,” Rob Shepherd, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell, said in a statement. “Our bio-inspired approach can dramatically increase the system’s energy density while allowing soft robots to remain mobile for far longer.”

The results are an innovative robot that’s capable of swimming continuously for up to 36 hours. While that does mean that it would still need to recharge periodically, and couldn’t be left alone for long-term surveillance tasks or similar, it is far longer than most battery-powered robots are able to operate.

But there’s still room for improvement. Although undoubtedly impressive as a tech demo, Cornell’s lionfish-inspired robot can only swim at a speed of approximately 1.5 body lengths per minute. Translated to a more recognizable gauge of speed, that is around 0.01 kilometers per hour, which means that it’s not exactly the most fast-moving of robots. (It’s definitely a whole lot slower than a real lionfish, which are known for their fast-striking abilities.)

In other words, there is more work to do when it comes to optimizing this particular design. As the researchers note in the abstract of their research paper, though, “this use of electrochemical energy storage in hydraulic fluids could facilitate increased energy density, autonomy, efficiency and multifunctionality in future robot designs.”

Cornell’s lionfish robot project is detailed in a research paper, titled “Electrolytic vascular systems for energy-dense robots,” which was recently published in the journal Nature.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Holotron is a robotic exosuit that could transform the way we use VR
holotron robot exosuit 1

Life-like VR and Robot Teleoperation - Holotron Demo, 1 min, no narration

There was once a time, in the early 1990s to be precise, when the biggest impediment to achieving high-end virtual reality was the fact that the images were too fuzzy and slow-moving. Today, we’ve moved way beyond these early teething challenges. With impressive visuals and three-dimensional sound, VR has no problem creating a compellingly immersive experience -- from an audio-visual perspective, at least.

Read more
Man uses brain-controlled prosthetic robot arms to eat a Twinkie
APL eating robot 1

Have Robot Arms, Will Eat Twinkie

Robert "Buz" Chmielewski, a quadriplegic man who suffered an accident in his teens that left him with minimal movement and feeling in his hands, recently fed himself dessert with the aid of two prosthetic robot arms he was able to control using his mind.

Read more
Insect-inspired repair robot clings to giant turbine blades with suction legs
BladeBug robot

Have you heard of “wing walkers,” the daredevil stuntmen and women who walk along the wings of planes in flight? Well, BladeBUG is cut from the same cloth -- only instead of airborne planes, it performs “blade walks” along the blades of operational offshore wind turbines. And instead of being a death-defying human daredevil, it’s a suction cup-equipped robot insect. (But other than that, it’s totally the same.)

“This opens the door to autonomous inspection and repair of wind turbines, improving the efficiency of the blades and reducing risk for rope access technicians,” Chris Cieslak, founder and director of BladeBUG, told Digital Trends. “[Our robot] uses a patent-pending six-legged design with suction cup feet, which means each of the legs can move and bend independently. This is significant because it enables the robot to walk on the blade’s changing curved surface, as well as inside the blade, tower, or hub of the turbine.”

Read more