3D-printed mini-submarine can move in water without a motor

A motorless mini-submarine has been created by researchers from ETH Zurich and the California Institute of Technology. The 3D-printed vessel moves using a new propulsion concept designed for swimming robots, enabling it to paddle without engine power.

By responding to temperature changes in water, the robot moves its paddles back and forth, gently — albeit briefly and awkwardly — propelling itself forward.

“Imitating the motion of rowing boats, frogs or water striders, the swimming robot propels itself forward by driving its oars back,” Kristina Shea, an ETH Zurich professor of engineering design who led the project, told Digital Trends.

Rather than relying on an electric motor that connects to a power source, the robot’s oars are activated using a similar mechanism used in snap-on bracelets. This activation is triggered by a “shape memory polymer” strips, which act like muscles.

“A shape memory polymer is a type of plastic that becomes compliant when heated,” Shea explained. “In the heated condition, it can be ‘programmed’ from its permanent shape to a secondary shape. This secondary shape becomes stable when the shape memory polymer is cooled down, yet it does not lose its ‘memory’ of its permanent shape. When it is reheated, it recovers its permanent shape.”

In recovering its permanent shape, force is transferred to an internal mechanism, causing the oars to snap back and drive the robot forward. The shape memory polymer is designed to expand in water, so when the water is heated, they serve as something like muscles for the machine.

The machine is still very primitive, capable of performing just a single paddle stroke and small tasks like dropping a coin. But by demonstrating that this propulsion method is feasible, the researchers hope to develop more complex techniques.

“The main takeaway from our work is that we have developed a new and promising means of propulsion that is fully 3D printed, tune-able, and works without an external power source,” Shea said in a statement.

Among these possible applications, Shea and her team envision similar systems providing low-cost power sources for ocean exploration. In addition to responses to changes in water temperature, these future versions may be sensitive to things like acidity and salinity.

A paper detailing the study was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.

Muscle cars, trucks, and EVs roared into the subdued 2019 Detroit Auto Show

The 2019 Detroit Auto Show was the quietest edition of the event in recent memory, but that doesn't mean nothing significant happened inside the Cobo Center. Here are the new cars and concepts we saw at the show.
Home Theater

QLED and OLED may have similar names, but they're totally different technologies

The names may look almost identical, but OLED and QLED are two entirely different beasts. In our QLED vs. OLED battle, we dissect the differences between these dueling TV technologies, and help determine which might be best for you.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Google’s radar-sensing tech could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Emerging Tech

Tiny animals discovered in Antarctic lake deep beneath the ice

Scientists have made a surprising discovery in Antarctica: the carcasses of tiny animals including crustaceans and a tardigrade were found in a lake that sits deep beneath over half a mile of Antarctic ice.
Emerging Tech

How long is a day on Saturn? Scientists finally have an answer

The length of Saturn's day has always been a challenge to calculate because of the planet's non-solid surface and magnetic field. But now scientists have tracked vibrations in the rings to pin down a final answer.
Emerging Tech

Tiny microbots fold like origami to travel through the human body

Tiny robots modeled after bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to hard to reach areas of the human body. Scientists have developed elastic microbots that can change their shape depending on their environment.
Emerging Tech

Dinosaurs never stood a chance after asteroid impacts doubled 290M years ago

The number of asteroids pummeling Earth jumped dramatically around 290 million years ago. By looking at Moon craters, scientists discovered that d the number of asteroid impacts on both Earth and the Moon increased by two to three times.
Emerging Tech

Saturn didn’t always have rings, according to new analysis of Cassini data

Saturn's rings are younger than previously believed, according to new data gathered from the Cassini mission. The rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.