This robot eel glides through saltwater without making a sound

Even before Gore Verbinski’s disappointing recent horror movie A Cure for Wellness, we were pretty creeped out by eels. As if the real thing wasn’t unnerving enough, however, engineers and marine biologists from the University of California, San Diego, have created an eel robot that’s designed to swim silently through saltwater — using the same rhythmic, ribbon-like motions as its natural counterpart.

“The robot is powered by artificial muscles that contract and expand when stimulated with electricity,” Caleb Christianson, a Ph.D. student at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, told Digital Trends. “By arranging these muscles and stimulating them in a certain sequence, we can generate forward propulsion.”

The eel robot does not carry an onboard electric motor. Instead, it is decked out with cables which apply voltage to both the water around it and to pouches of water inside its artificial muscles. The robot’s electronics deliver a negative charge to the surrounding water and a positive charge internally, thereby activating its muscles. These charges cause the muscles to bend. Fortunately for surrounding marine life, they are low enough current to be perfectly safe — so that any creature which hasn’t already fled in terror from the robot eel won’t find itself harmed by being in the same vicinity.

“Traditional robots for underwater exploration are typically powered by propellers or jets that generate a lot of noise, and are made out of rigid materials that may damage their surroundings if they were to bump into them,” Christianson continued. “Instead, the structure of our robot is completely soft, which reduces the risk of damage to the environment. The artificial muscles that we use are [also] silent, which allows the robot to swim without making any noise.”

Christianson noted that, right now, the project is still a proof-of-concept to demonstrate a means of underwater propulsion. In the future, the team hopes to add a variety of sensors and cameras, as well as optimize the design, so as to use the eel-bot for the purpose of underwater exploration.

A paper describing the work, “Translucent soft robots driven by frameless fluid electrode dielectric elastomer actuators,” was recently published in the journal Science Robotics.

Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Outdoors

Drink what nature provides with the best water purifiers

Looking for reliable water purification? Staying hydrated is important, especially when you are hiking or camping far from civilization. Check out our picks of the best water purifiers for your camp, backpack, or pocket.
Emerging Tech

This unusual nature-inspired robot is equally at home on land or in the water

This intriguing, nature-inspired robot may look unusual, but it's impressively capable of moving on both land and water without problem. Heck, it can even travel on ice if necessary.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe captures first image from within the atmosphere of the sun

NASA has shared the first image from inside the atmosphere of the sun taken by the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made the closest ever approach to a star, gathering data which scientists have been interpreting and released this week.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

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!
Emerging Tech

Researchers create a flying wireless platform using bumblebees

Researchers at the University of Washington have come up with a novel way to create a wireless platform: using bumblebees. As mechanical drones' batteries run out too fast, the team made use of a biology-based solution using living insects.
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.
Emerging Tech

Beautiful image of young planets sheds new light on planet formation

Researchers examining protoplanetary disks -- the belts of dust that eventually form planets -- have shared fascinating images of the planets from their survey, showing the various stages of planet formation.
Emerging Tech

Delivery robot goes up in flames while out and about in California

A small meal-delivery robot suddenly caught fire in Berkeley, California, on Friday. The blaze was quickly tackled and no one was hurt, but the incident is nevertheless a troubling one for the fledgling robot delivery industry.
Emerging Tech

High-tech dancing robot turns out to be a guy in a costume

A Russian TV audience was impressed recently by an adult-sized "robot" that could dance and talk. But when some people began pointing out that its actions were a bit odd, the truth emerged ... it was a fella in a robot suit.
Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.