Skip to main content

This robot grabber is gentle enough to hold a jellyfish without damaging it

Soft Robotic Gripper for Jellyfish

Soft robots are triggering a revolution in the way that robots are designed and built by using new softer materials that can more safely interact with the world around them. But how soft is soft? According to a new piece of research carried out by researchers at the American Museum of Natural History, City University of New York, and Harvard University, the answer is … soft enough not to harm a jellyfish.

If that sentence doesn’t mean anything to you don’t worry — you haven’t missed a popular saying or anything. But jellyfish are a good test subject because they’re so fragile and easily damaged. In their latest piece of work, the researchers used a soft robot with gentle, noodle-looking fingers to carefully handle these slippery sea-dwelling organisms. And the results were extremely promising.

“These tools were developed for working in remote areas like the deep sea and for handling a diversity of invertebrates,” Michael Tessler, a post-doctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History, told Digital Trends. “This gives scientists a path forward to more kindly interact with their study organism. The tools should also be useful for any other system where being gentle is important, and may be of use in the future for handling easily bruised produce or aiding in surgeries.”

Anand Varma

The researchers didn’t just stop at passively observing the way that the soft robot interacted with the jellyfish, though. Because jellyfish don’t make any sounds to indicate discomfort, the investigators carried out a genomic analysis to see how they found the experience. They discovered that the creators expressed significantly fewer stress-related genes than they did when held using traditional submersible grippers.

“Nobody really knows how these animals experience this handling,” Tessler continued. “We used genomic tools to help answer this and found the soft robotic tools indeed cause less disturbance to the animals in terms of the genes they are using. This proves we are onto something: we can handle critters with more care and we can make a difference to an animal’s life when we interact with it. This is especially important for explorations to remote areas of the ocean and the deep sea, where we often don’t know how rare an animal might be and may only have one chance at interacting with it.”

David Gruber, professor of Biology at City University of New York, told Digital Trends that “the next steps are to integrate the ultra-gentle robot fingers with other advanced technologies, like DNA swabbing, so we can begin to perform ‘medical check-ups’ in the deep-sea without harming the animal of interest.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Current Biology.

Editors' Recommendations

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…
SoftBank enters the cafe business with new robot-filled Pepper Parlor
softbank enters the cafe business with new robot filled pepper parlor

Japan already has a hotel staffed by robots, so why not a cafe?

Opening this week in Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya district, tech giant SoftBank is opening a new eatery staffed by lots of its Pepper robots.

Read more
Youbionic’s new robot appendage lends a hand without costing an arm and a leg
youbionic new 250 arm inshot 20191003 221501264

Youbionic Human Arm

We've covered all kinds of amazing robot arm projects at Digital Trends over the years. While they have featured plenty of awesome tech and some pretty impressive use cases, these robot arms have also carried a high price tag stretching into the thousands of dollars. That’s something that Federico Ciccarese, the engineer behind low-cost robotic arm company Youbionic, is working hard to change.

Read more
Boston Dynamics’ Spot is a cool robot. But is that enough for success?
boston dynamics spot robot no longer a novelty hero v3

When Boston Dynamics first showed off its LittleDog robot a decade ago, in 2009, the world hadn’t seen anything like it. With the exception of new-fangled smartphones, the tech world was still obsessing over software, not hardware. Web advertising, mobile apps, and social networks were in. Hardware, by comparison, was prohibitively expensive and, to many, just not worth the effort. The Nest smart thermostat, Pebble smartwatch, and any number of other smart connected physical devices were still a few years away. A dog robot seemed like the stuff of science fiction.

And it was. It took a number of years and further iterations for Boston Dynamics’ canine bots to develop into the sleek creature we know today as Spot. While Boston Dynamics patiently worked on the robot away from prying eyes (with the exception of the occasional hype video to keep our appetites whetted), dog robots were most readily seen in popular culture like Black Mirror’s “Metalhead” episode. They were a novelty, just like sci-fi robots like The Terminator had been in the 1980s. Skynet meets man’s (or woman’s) best friend.

Read more