You often hear that art imitates life, but sometimes technology does too. Pliant Energy Systems’ Velox robot resembles an underwater creature more than it does a robot because it uses undulating fins to propel itself, as you can see in the video below.
The video shows the beast skating, but also swimming, and walking. It really does look more like a lifeform than a device. According to the company, the robot has excellent static thrust/watt and is resistant to becoming entangled in plants and other debris.
The downside of this report is that it is sparse on technical detail. However, because there is mention of patents it was reasonably easy to find out more that way. From trying to decode the patent legal jargon, it looks like the key is the deformation of the flexible fin using a transducer (we would have said actuator) to bend the material. In other words, the plastic fin is “popped out” (or in) and the actuator pulls or pushes it out of shape and then lets it pop back to its original position. We think.
Although they do show it slithering across solid surfaces, we bet it would have trouble on anything that wasn’t reasonably flat or had a high coefficient of friction. It sure looks good in the water, though.
If you search for other patents the company holds, you’ll see that like a lot of things, you can operate the device in reverse and use it to extract power from moving liquids. That gives us a few ideas, too.