Innovative suction robot is designed to hitchhike on the side of a shark

underwater robot ride shark robotsharksucker
When you think of badass underwater robots, a new creation from researchers at China’s Beihang University and Harvard University has to rank pretty darn high. What they have developed is a fish-inspired suction cup robot, designed to hitch rides on passing sharks and other aquatic animals, without hurting them. (Or, you know, hopefully without being munched in the process.) The technology could prove an invaluable tool in helping marine biologists better understand and track their subjects, or simply providing a new form of underwater robot locomotion that requires less energy expenditure.

Li Wen, a researcher on the project from Beihang University, says he was inspired to develop the project while working on 3D-printed shark skin research at Harvard University in 2012. While trying to find a good image of a shark for his academic paper, he noticed that, attached to the shark in one picture, was a small creature called a remora — or suckerfish.

“We are amazed by the structure of remora’s suction disc, which lets it hitchhike on a variety of hosts,” Wen told Digital Trends. “[As a result], we decided to start this bio-robotic remora project. There are several applications for this remora disc robot. For example, we can use this bio-robotic disc as a tag to monitor marine animals. We can also use this disc to grip large, flat objects underwater, or integrate it with an underwater robot, therefore allowing it to hitchhike to save power.”

underwater robot ride shark bioinspired prototype  soft

Although there are plenty of innovative underwater robots, developing materials that are capable of gripping to things underwater is a major challenge in its own right. In the past, we covered other intriguing attempts at solving this problem, such as a U.S. Navy project which aims to replicate the proteins in mussels to create underwater glue. In the case of the remora disc robot, researchers could have found a workable alternative method, however.

In tests, their artificial suction cup — which incorporates 1,000 carbon fiber “spinules” to help it stay connected — was able to withstand the forces that would be exerted on it by a shark swimming at a speed of five feet per second. The suction disc can be attached to a wide variety of surfaces, including shark skin, and removing it requires forces of more than 340 times its weight.

“So far, we haven’t tried hitchhiking this robot on a swimming shark or a live dolphin yet, but that is certainly interesting and challenging,” Wen said. “We are working towards a more reliable underwater attachment device to meet [this] real-world application.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Science Robotics.

Movies & TV

To drive its giant virtual world, Ready Player One needed a custom A.I. engine

Steven Spielberg and a visual effects team led by Roger Goyett built a new, virtual universe populated by a host of familiar characters for the Oscar-nominated Ready Player One, but they still had to maintain a powerful emotional depth in…
Cars

Researchers teach self-driving cars to predict pedestrians’ next moves

University of Michigan researchers are developing a system that teaches self-driving cars to predict pedestrian movement. Humans don't always act in their own best self-interest, so autonomous cars will need to practice protective driving.
Emerging Tech

Chandra X-ray telescope uncovers evidence of the universe’s missing matter

Where is all of the matter in the universe? NASA's Chandra telescope has uncovered evidence of hot gas strands in the vicinity of a quasar which could explain the missing third of matter which has puzzled astronomers for years.
Emerging Tech

Photosynthesizing artificial leaf may be the air-cleaning tool we’ve dreamed of

Engineers from the University of Illinois at Chicago have invented an artificial leaf which could both clean up our air and provide a cost-effective type of fuel. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

SeaBubbles’ new electric hydrofoil boat is the aquatic equivalent of a Tesla

What do you get if you combine a Tesla, a flying car, and a sleek boat? Probably something a bit like SeaBubbles, the French "flying" boat startup which offers a fresh spin on the hydrofoil.
Emerging Tech

We tried a $500 electronic dab rig, and now we can’t go back to normal vaporizers

Induction heating is the future of cannabis vaporizers. Loto Labs wowed us with what likely is the best concentrate vaporizer on the market today. With a $500 price tag, it's expensive, but it should definitely be your next dab rig.
Emerging Tech

Israel will launch world’s first privately funded moon mission tomorrow

This week will see the world's first privately funded lunar mission launch. Israel's first mission to the moon will be launched aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, February 21.
Emerging Tech

FDA warns about the dangers of anti-aging blood transfusions

It turns out injecting old people with blood from healthy youngsters may not be the answer to health rejuvenation. That’s according to the FDA, which says such claims are dangerous junk science.
Emerging Tech

Bees can do arithmetic, setting the scientific community abuzz

A new study has found something remarkable: Bees can do basic arithmetic. Researchers showed that bees could use colors as representations for numbers and then use those colors for addition and subtraction.
Emerging Tech

DeepSqueak is a machine learning A.I. that reveals what rats are chatting about

Want to know what rats are squeaking about? You'd better check out DeepSqueak, the new deep learning artificial intelligence developed by researchers at the University of Washington.
Health & Fitness

Immune cell discovery takes us one step closer to a universal flu vaccine

A group of international researchers have made a discovery which could take us one step closer to the universal, one-shot flu vaccine that people around the world have been dreaming of.
Photography

NASA celebrates Earth’s incredible natural beauty with free photo book

NASA has published a fabulous new book featuring stunning imagery captured by its satellites over the years. A hardback version is available for $53, though it can also be downloaded to ebook readers for free, and enjoyed online.
Deals

This new all-in-one flashlight is a power bank, lighter, and screwdriver

The Pyyros modular flashlight can perform numerous field tasks, from hammering to starting fires. If you back it on Kickstarter now, you can score some savings on this innovative flashlight and multi-tool, but act fast: This early-bird…
Movies & TV

Hilarious new Kickstarter aims to fix Scorcese’s last scene in The Departed

A fan of The Departed and apparent hater of rat-as-symbolism imagery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to digitally erase the rodent from the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie.