The ocean is full of incredible creatures, but studying them without harming them is often a difficult task. Few technological approaches have been employed to bring extremely deep fish to the surface. Now researchers have developed a special robot hand that can safely capture the most delicate sea creatures.
The tech is called the rotary actuated dodecahedron (RAD). It is an origami robot hand that folds out in a dodecahedron, a twelve-sided solid. The system has five identical, 3D-printed polymer faces attached to rotating joints. When a single motor applies a torque, the faces fold and the structure closes. The device is described in the latest issue of Science Robotics.
The team first tested the RAD at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, where they successfully collected and released moon jellyfish underwater. It was then slightly altered so that it could withstand the actual conditions of the ocean. It was mounted on a remotely operated vehicle provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and tested to depths between 500 and 700 meters (1,600 and 2,300 feet). The team was able to capture and release squid and jellyfish without harm.
"The RAD sampler design is perfect for the difficult environment of the deep ocean because its controls are very simple, so there are fewer elements that can break. It's also modular, so if something does break, we can simply replace that part and send the sampler back down into the water," lead author Dr Zhi Ern Teoh, from Harvard University, said in a statement. "This folding design is also well-suited to be used in space, which is similar to the deep ocean in that it's a low-gravity, inhospitable environment that makes operating any device challenging."
The plan is now to add sensors and cameras to the RAD so that when animals are captured researchers can maximize the amount of information they gather from these creatures.
"We approach these animals as if they are works of art: would we cut pieces out of the Mona Lisa to study it? No – we'd use the most innovative tools available. These deep-sea organisms, some being thousands of years old, deserve to be treated with a similar gentleness when we're interacting with them," added collaborating author David Gruber, professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Baruch College, CUNY.
The team is also considering a more heavy duty version of the origami robot that could be used for geological investigations.