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Robotic ray could end up flapping through an ocean near you

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July 25, 2012

Hilary Bart-Smith's robotic cow-nosed ray

Hilary Bart-Smith's robotic cow-nosed ray

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Sometime in the future, perhaps sometime soon, the robotic jellyfish, octopi and fish cruising the world’s oceans may have to make way for one other companion – the robotic ray. A team led by University of Virginia engineering professor Hilary Bart-Smith has created such a “creature,” in hopes that its autonomously-operated descendants may someday help us humans explore and study the sea, or possibly perform surveillance for the military.

The robot is modeled after the cow-nosed ray (it was actually molded from one’s body), which is a member of the batoid ray family. Other members of that family include the manta ray and stingray, and as the word “batoid” implies, they all swim with a flying motion. That highly-efficient form of underwater propulsion is unique in the animal kingdom, and it allows them to move very quickly with relatively little effort, while also being very agile – and virtually silent.

These are qualities that Bart-Smith and her colleagues think would make for an excellent autonomous underwater vehicle. Such a vehicle could stealthily cruise for long periods of time at high speeds, perform tight maneuvers when necessary, plus the body shape would allow for large payloads.

The robotic ray 'flies' through the water just like a real one

In its current form, the robotic ray is tethered, and is controlled remotely by a human operator providing computer commands. It has a waterproof plastic body that contains its electronic components and batteries, while its wings are made from flexible silicone. The shape and orientation of those wings are altered through the expansion and contraction of rods and cables within them, allowing the robot to accelerate, glide, turn, or maintain its position, just like a real cow-nosed ray.

Hilary’s team includes experts in marine biology, biomechanics, structures, hydrodynamics and control systems, hailing from her own university along with Princeton, UCLA and Pennsylvania’s West Chester University ... and they are not the only people to have developed a robotic ray. Mechanical tech company Festo has already created the AquaRay, a remote-control ray-like robot that swims by pumping water through “fluidic muscles” in its wings.

The U. Virginia robotic ray can be seen making its way through the water, in the video below.

Source: University of Virginia via Futurity

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
4 Comments

NOT a fan of this, at all. We've screwed with nature too much as it is. We don't need fake, creepy animals in the wild. Leave Nature alone!

passion8leader
26th July, 2012 @ 11:11 am PDT

They are very cool, but far too much like the real thing. Left in lagoon within a few days we will soon find out what shark species predates on Manta Rays because as a robot its behaviour will be exactly the opposite of what would keep one alive - i.e. bury itself in sand, move in shoals, hunt at night etc.

However it has a realy great future scaled up to mini sub size. I can see these used with the SOLO-TREC technology.

L1ma
26th July, 2012 @ 11:33 am PDT

I want one big enough to ride in!!

Gargamoth
26th July, 2012 @ 04:51 pm PDT

Never mind Get Smart ideas of stealth-rays to snoop on the bad guys, make them fuel-cell powered and have a fleet of them gently flapping around the oceans picking up dissolved minerals, eg: lithium, manganese etc.

Chris D Hooley
5th August, 2012 @ 09:53 pm PDT
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