Squid-like robot destined to explore distant planets

robotic eel explore europa
© NASA/Cornell University/NSF

This latest robot, funded by NASA, is almost too much to write about. It hits so many of the current sought-after features for modern robots. Powered by renewable energy? Check. Soft-flexible parts? Check. Design inspired by nature? Check. Chock full of sensors? Oh yeah.

The squid-inspired robot is a concept proposed to one day explore the seas of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, or other distant planetary bodies. The biggest hurdle for rovers and robots sent to these farther out planets is that solar power can't be relied on to fully power those machines that far away from the sun.

That's where the most interesting part of this robot comes in. The squid bot will harvest energy from the magnetic fields that are created by and around Jupiter. The researchers who designed the robot say that the magnetic fields will generate flux throughout the water column in Europa's oceans and if the eel features an electrodynamic tether extending from it, it could harvest enough energy to power all of its systems.

eel robot 2© NASA/Cornell University/NSF

IEEE describes the process as, “The electricity gets used to electrolyze water, splitting the H2O into H2 and O2, which get stored internally in the body and limbs of the robot. The gases can then be mixed and ignited on demand, which could propel the bot in one of two ways: the explosions could either cause the limbs and body of the bot to expand and contract, allowing it to ‘swim,’ or you could use the explosions much more directly, directing the exhaust out the back of the robot, causing it to jet forward like an octopus.”

The electricity will propel it in different ways, but it will also power a luminescent skin that will light the water around it for capturing underwater photos as well as additional onboard sensors for studying the environment.

This concept may be far away from the launch pad, but because it takes advantage of so many rapidly improving technologies, we may be seeing something similar before we know it.

Squid-like robot destined to explore distant planets
The NASA-funded robot may one day explore the seas of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons.

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