Even before Gore Verbinski's disappointing horror film A Cure for Wellness we were quite scared of eels. As if the real thing were not enough thrills, engineers and marine biologists from the University of California at San Diego have developed an eel robot designed to float silently through salt water – with the same rhythmic, band-like motion as its natural counterpart ,
"The robot is powered by artificial muscles that contract and expand when stimulated with electricity," says Caleb Christianson, Ph.D. Student at Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, told Digital Trends. "By arranging these muscles and stimulating them in a particular order, we can generate forward propulsion."
The eel robot does not have a built-in electric motor. Instead, it is equipped with cables that apply tension to both the water around it and the water bags in its artificial muscles. The robot's electronics deliver a negative charge to the surrounding water and a positive charge inside, which activates the muscles. These charges cause the muscles to flex. Fortunately for the surrounding marine life, they are low enough to be absolutely safe ̵
"Traditional underwater exploration robots are usually powered by propellers or jets that produce a lot of noise and are made of stiff materials that could damage their environment if they hit them," continued Christianson. "Instead, the structure of our robot is completely soft, which reduces the risk of environmental damage, and the artificial muscles we use are quiet [also]allowing the robot to swim without noise."
Christianson noted that the project at the moment is still a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the underwater technology drive. In the future, the team hopes to add a variety of sensors and cameras as well as optimize the design to use the eel bot for underwater exploration purposes.
A paper that describes the work "Translucent soft robots that are powered by frameless electrodielectric elastomer actuators," was recently published in the journal Science Robotics.