Soft Robotic Jellyfish Get Pumped In The Atlantic

In a recent paper in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, researchers at Florida Atlantic University describe the process of building and testing five free-swimming soft robotic jellyfish. The paper contains build details and data on how three different variables – tentacle stiffness, stroke frequency, and stroke amplitude – affect the swimming characteristics of each bot. For a more in-depth build log, we found the original masters thesis by Jennifer Frame to be very thorough, including processes, schematics, parts lists, and even some Arduino code.

Though a landlubber may say the robots look more like a stumpy octopus than a jellyfish, according to the paper the shape is actually most similar to a juvenile “ephyra stage” moon jellyfish, with 8 short tentacles radiating from a central body. The flexible tentacles are made of a silicon rubber material from Smooth-On, and were cast in 3D printed molds. Inside the waterproof main body is a Teensy 3.2 microcontroller, some flash memory, a nine-axis IMU, a temperature sensor, and a 9 V battery.

There are two flexible resistors embedded in the body to measure tentacle flex, and the actual flexing is done by pumping seawater through open circuit hydraulic channels cast into the tentacles. Two 3 V mini pumps are sufficient for pumping, and the open circuit means that when the pumps turn off, the tentacles bleed off any remaining pressure and quickly snap back to their “neutral” position without the use of complicated valves.

Another simple feature is two hall effect sensors that were mounted in the body to enable waterproof “wireless communication” with the microcontroller. The wireless protocol of choice: manually waving magnets over the sensors to switch the robot between a few predefined operating modes.

There’s a soothing, atmospheric video after the break, where you can see the robots in action off the coast of Florida.

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Soft Hydraulic Muscles Lift Weights As A Team

Working with hydraulics usually means having a fluid tank and valves. [consciousflesh] does away with both those for his DIY hydraulic artificial muscles. Instead, he uses a pair of muscles, both preloaded with fluid. To contract one, he pumps the fluid into the other, expanding that one, and vice versa. A bidirectional gear pump moves the fluid while also acting as a valve. And flexible materials replace heavy metal cylinders.

As we said, this is a DIY project. He made the muscles by surrounding silicone tubes with aramid fiber sleeves, giving added strength. The blocks at either end are also custom-made. The gear pump is one he purchased and made substantial modifications to, including removing the tank and fixing a brushless DC motor to one end. The final custom piece was a controller board for the motor. A Gerber file, schematic, and technical drawings, along with further details are all on his Hackaday.io page. Meanwhile, check out the load test in the video below as the muscles lift and lower 5 kg (11 lbs) each.

A search of Hackaday shows hydraulic artificial muscles may be rare, so perhaps this will be the first of many. For example, how about replicating how human arm muscles work together, one contracting while the other expands? We’ve seen that done already using pneumatics with [James Hobson’s] exoskeleton arms. Perhaps someone should do it with these pairs of flexible hydraulic muscles?

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