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Robotic version of Mantis crab for underwater exploration

Researchers have developed an agile, bioinspired underwater robot based on the mantis shrimp that could aid exploration and monitoring of hard-to-access aquatic environments. The nimble crustacean's speed and flexibility inspired an engineering approach to robotic locomotion in constrained settings.

Created by teams from Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and the University of Essex, the robot features 10 artificial pleopods on a bendable trunk, resembling a mantis shrimp's quick swimming appendages and adaptable body. This combination of articulated propulsive limbs and a deformable frame enables swift, precise maneuvering.

"The mantis shrimp is a small yet fast predator with excellent navigational abilities that can inform underwater robot designs," says lead researcher Gang Chen. Mimicking its efficient physiology unlocks comparable mobility.

The pleopods' independent, hinged joints optimize paddling motions using water resistance to fold and extend. By adjusting pace and rhythm, the robot transitions smoothly between fast forward propulsion to tight pivots and rotations within its own length.

In tests, the bioinspired robot achieved a top speed of 0.28 meters per second and turned in a 0.36 meter radius while deftly avoiding obstacles. The redundancy of multiple pleopods also ensures reliability if any fail.

Chen notes they plan to upgrade sensing, autonomy and motion capabilities for unstructured underwater environments. The nimble platform shows promise inspecting tight spaces in subsea pipelines, research sites and other murky, inaccessible habitats.

"This bionic design simplifies control, increases driving force and enables penetrating complex waters," Chen says. The machine vision and intelligence of mantis shrimp offer marine robotics inspiration beyond propulsion too.

By reverse engineering select natural abilities, bioinspired drones like this prototype promise to safely survey and secure the most confined and challenging aquatic frontiers.

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