Squidbot moves like a real squid to take pictures of coral and fish

Engineers from the University of California San Diego have created a new squid-like robot that can operate in the ocean untethered. The robot propels itself by squirting jets of water and carries its power source inside its body. It can also carry a sensor, such as a camera, allowing it to explore underwater.

Researchers on the product say that they essentially re-created key features used by squids to swim at high speeds. The team also notes that squidbot is the first untethered robot able to generate jet pulses for fast movement. Like a squid, the robot achieves those jet pulses by changing its body shape and improving its swimming efficiency.

Squidbot is made of mostly soft materials like acrylic polymer but has a few rigid 3D printed and laser-cut parts. Using soft robots for exploration underwater is critical as it helps the robot to survive fish and coral, which could damage rigid robots. The design of the Squidbot allows the team to overcome one shortcoming of soft robots, which is slow movement and poor maneuverability.

At rest, the robot is shaped similarly to a paper lantern with flexible ribs that act like springs along the sides. The ribs are connected to a pair of circular plates at the ends of the robot. One of those plates is connected to a nozzle that can take in and eject water when the robot body contracts.

The second plate inside the robot carries a water-proof camera or other type of sensor. Steering is accomplished by adjusting the direction of the nozzle. One key concern was waterproofing electrical components such as the battery and camera. The robot can travel at 18 to 32 centimeters per second, which is roughly half a mile-per-hour.