Biomimetic Underwater Robots for Applications Ranging from Explosives Detection to Robotic Mariculture Systems

Northeastern University Background
We often look to nature to solve many of our problems. Brilliant animal-inspired designs can be effective and sustainable solutions to intractable problems in diverse fields, from military services to medical applications. The neurosensory and muscular systems of animals inspire us as we design sensors and actuators. Studying animals’ behaviors and their neurophysiology helps us to build behavioral libraries and electronic nervous systems. The logic and dynamic of animals’ behavior enable us to include adaptive and perturbation mechanisms in biomimetic inventions. Hence, imitating biological organisms in the field of engineering, called biomimicry, has the potential to solve numerous complex human problems.
Technology Overview
Inspired by marine animals, Northeastern researchers have invented a range of biomimetic robots, including the “Robo-Lobster” and “Robo-Lamprey”. Robo-Lobster, an underwater robot with eight plastic legs, a fiberoptic antenna, and an industrial-strength plastic shell, is remarkably similar to a living American lobster in both form and behavior. The Robo-Lobster’s body shape and weight enable it to move and manoeuver in many types of environments. Just as living lobster prey on sea life near the coast, the Robo-Lobster is able to trawl along the coastline for objects. Hence, this Robo-Lobster can conduct mine countermeasures, collect marine science data, and patrol for underwater pollution. Robo-Lamprey, the second biomimetic robot, is inspired by the lateral axial undulation of lamprey swimming. The Robo-Lamprey has been invented for remote sensing operations in the water column with robust depth control and high manoeuvrability.
The research team has also developed “RoboCulture”, an underwater autonomous closed robotic mariculture system. Through a combination of hardware and software that communicate conditions of the system, they are able to autonomously regulate temperature, depth, and feeding. It also incorporates closed recycling bioremediation, and uses wave energy for power. In all of these robots, the concepts of neuro-morphic sensors, myo-morphic actuators, nervous systems, and behavioral libraries are employed. These highly modularized robots are designed at low cost and controlled remotely. They operate autonomously, at low energy, and with minimal threat to the environment. Taken together, these biomimetic robots provide an integrated architecture for the control and reactive autonomy in diverse applications.
Benefits

Autonomous
High manoeuvrability
Having adaptive and perturbation mechanisms
Highly coordinated
Adaptive to different environments
Cost-effective design
Energy-efficient operation
Environmentally friendly

Applications

Mine countermeasures
Collecting marine science data
Patrolling for underwater pollution
Robotic mariculture system
Bioremediation
Passive and active tactile sensing antennae
Computation for neurobiologically-inspired networks
Movement therapy for stroke and traumatic brain injury

Opportunity

Building business plan
Applying for grant funding

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