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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Image of a combine harvester within a wheat field, harvesting.

Russia is the world's largest wheat exporter, with 20 percent of the world's wheat trade. Combine harvesters that can drive themselves using technology from Russian company Cognitive Pilot are helping to make the harvesting process faster and more efficient.

Cognitive Pilot

The field of automated precision agriculture is based on one concept—autonomous driving technologies that guide vehicles through GPS navigation. Fifteen years ago, when high-accuracy GPS became available for civilian use, farmers thought things would be simple: Put a GPS receiver station at the edge of the field, configure a route for a tractor or a combine harvester, and off you go, dear robot!

Practice has shown, however, that this kind of carefree field cultivation is inefficient and dangerous. It works only in ideal fields, which are almost never encountered in real life. If there's a log or a rock in the field, or a couple of village paramours dozing in the rye under the sun, the tractor will run right over them. And not all countries have reliable satellite coverage—in agricultural markets like Kazakhstan, coverage can be unstable. This is why, if you want safe and efficient farming, you need to equip your vehicle with sensors and an artificial intelligence that can see and understand its surroundings instead of blindly following GPS navigation instructions.

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