Robotic gripper catches deep-sea animals without harming them

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Catch deep sea creatures

Harvard University Wyss Institute

The deep sea is a difficult place to study wildlife, but a new foldable robotic gripper can make capturing underwater creatures a little easier.

Many deep-sea animals, such as jellyfish and their relatives, have fragile bodies. This means that catching them using a suction cup or claw-shaped pliers can cause them to shatter, leaving shattered pieces for study instead of whole organisms.

To counter this, Zhi Ern Teoh of Harvard University in Massachusetts and his colleagues created a robotic gripper based on a regular dodecahedron – a 3D shape constructed from 12 pentagons.

The clamp is used by attaching it to a remote controlled underwater vehicle or other type of submersible. It starts with a flat base that then gently folds around the animal.

The team tested the device in an aquarium and at the bottom of Monterey Canyon, an underwater canyon off the coast of central California, where they managed to catch a jellyfish, squid, and octopus.

Currently, the forceps can only hold the animal in place, but the team plans to add additional hardware, such as 3D scanners and DNA swabs, to examine the creatures inside.

Being able to measure animals in water rather than bringing them to the surface could make it easier for researchers to track interesting results, says Casey Dunn of Yale University in Connecticut. However, there are some cases, like the internal examination of animals, where they will still need to be brought to the surface, he says.

Journal reference: Scientific robotics, DOI: 10.1126 / scirobotics.aat5276

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