Roboray Uses Bioengineering to Conquer the Deep

A robotic cow-nosed ray could be one of the fastest, most efficient, and most maneuverable underwater robot designs

2 min read
Roboray Uses Bioengineering to Conquer the Deep

Bioroboticists at the University of Virginia have built themselves a robotic cow-nosed ray. Why? Because they can. Also, because rays are great at what they do, and if we can copy all their tricks to make better underwater robots, we absolutely should.

It's no coincidence that all the coolest UAVs look just like rays. The form factor that was invented by batoidea eons ago is advantageous for a number of reasons common across fluids including both air and water, including high efficiency, good maneuverability, speediness, and lots of payload space. In other words, according to the UVA researchers, rays are "wonderful examples of optimal engineering by nature."

UVA's bioengineers aren't the first roboticists to have noticed how awesome the ray is at being all ray-like. Festo, which knows a thing or two about robots inspired by nature, made both aerial and aquatic versions of rays that are quite acrobatic. What UVA is doing differently, however, is focusing on all the subtle ways that aquatic rays can control themselves, with the idea of developing an underwater robot that can do the same thing:

Making turns like that is an ability completely unique to the ray design, and it's a great illustration of why bioroboticists are so interested in getting all the details right. The body of the roboray is made of plastic, while the wings are made of silicon stuffed with rods and cables that expand and contract to causes the wing to change shape in ways that are modeled directly on observations of live rays.

The end goal here is an autonomous underwater vehicle that will be able to silently blend in with other sea creatures, carrying environmental monitoring payloads or possibly spy gear for the military.

A flock of non-robotic cow-nosed rays in the Galapagos. Photo by yours truly.

[ UVA ] via [ Futurity ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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