Mantis shrimp-inspired robot explores confined underwater environments

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Structure of the bionic giant clam robot. Credit: Chen et al. (IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics, 2023).

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Structure of the bionic giant clam robot. Credit: Chen et al. (IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics, 2023).

Nature is the main source of inspiration for many existing robotic systems designed to replicate the appearance and behavior of various living things. These robots can effectively tackle complex real-world problems by replicating biological processes artificially.

Inspired by the mantis shrimp, researchers from Zhejiang University of Science and Technology and the University of Essex have developed a robot that can help explore and monitor confined underwater environments that are home to numerous animal species and rich in mineral resources. A robot inspired by this creature is IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics.

“Many underwater environments have narrow spaces that are difficult for humans to access, so it would be best for robots to take over the exploration,” Gan Chen, one of the study’s authors, told Tech Xplore. “Mantis shrimp are small, flexible and fast-swimming predators in marine environments, and their superior locomotor abilities may provide new research ideas for the development of underwater robots. This study takes mantis shrimps as bionic objects and Design a new giant clam robot and complete motion control.”

Inspired by the abilities and movements of mantis shrimp, Chen and his colleagues set out to recreate them artificially. Their hope was to mimic the mechanisms that support mantis shrimp movement and develop an underwater robot that could move very well underwater and easily access tight spaces underwater.

The researchers created an agile robot consisting of 10 artificial prepopods and a flexible body, with powerful propulsion capabilities. Pleopods are fork-like limbs attached to the crustacean’s body that allow the animal to move around underwater.

“This bionic mantis shrimp robot is powered by five pairs of myriapods,” Chen explained. “A balance between speed and stability can be achieved by adjusting the frequency, amplitude, and phase difference of the movement of these five pairs of pleopods. Additionally, the connections of each pair of pleopods are independent, making them easy to repair. Very useful” in case the structure is damaged underwater. ”

The team’s robot’s movement is controlled by the use of wires to bend its flexible torso and the movement of its artificial prepopods. Together, these mechanisms allow the robot to quickly adjust its rotation angle and swim in the desired direction.


Robot turning motion experiment. (a) One rotation experiment. (b) Continuous rotation experiment. Credit: Chen et al. (IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics2023).

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Robot turning motion experiment. (a) Single rotation experiment. (b) Continuous rotation experiment. Credit: Chen et al. (IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics2023).

“Multiple pleopods are redundant, so the robot can achieve a change of direction even if some pleopods fail,” Chen said. “The Bionic Pleopod is designed with three joints, one of which is an active joint driven by a servo motor, and the remaining two joints deploy using water resistance. It is a passive joint that allows folding.

Essentially, when one of the robot’s limbs moves backwards, its three joints fully extend, providing maximum propulsion. In contrast, when the limb returns to its original position, the joints collapse, reducing forward resistance. This unique design leverages properties associated with water flow to simplify the robot’s structure, increase propulsion capabilities, and facilitate underwater control.

“The overall structure of the bionic mantis shrimp robot refers to the structure of a biological mantis shrimp, and the robot body has a flat shape with a streamlined telson to effectively reduce drag.” said Mr. Chen. “The Pleopod and robot body adopt a rigid-flexible coupling design to reduce the impact of water on the robot and improve the stability of the robot in underwater motion.”

Researchers tested a prototype mantis shrimp robot and found that it could successfully navigate underwater, reaching a maximum speed of 0.28 meters per second and a minimum turning radius of 0.36 meters. These results highlight the potential of robots to undertake exploration missions in narrow and complex underwater environments.

In particular, both the speed and movement of the giant clam robot can be precisely and easily controlled, reducing the risk of collisions with underwater obstacles. The researchers now plan to develop the system further and hope it will eventually be used for marine environment monitoring and rescue.

“In the future, we will focus on how to achieve autonomous movement of the bionic giant clam robot in a confined underwater environment and complete detection tasks in this environment,” Chen said.

“We plan to optimize the design of the robot’s structure, shape, and hardware system to improve its ability to operate in 6 degrees of freedom in 3D space and its speed in water. We will then use environmental information such as the IMU, camera, and depth sensor. Through the analysis of and feedback adjustment of the robot’s own posture, information acquisition devices will be increased to achieve more precise closed-loop motion control of the robot.

The team’s robots have already shown promising results, but are still in the early stages of development. Chen and his colleagues plan to continue improving and testing the robot to confirm its ability to navigate cramped underwater environments.

“In our next research, we will also use carbon fiber and embedded high-strength materials to enhance the durability and reliability of each component of the robot,” Chen added. “This could lay the foundation for practical applications in confined aquatic environments.”

For more information:
Gang Chen et al., Design and control of a new bionic giant clam robot; IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics (2023). DOI: 10.1109/TMECH.2023.3266778

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