How This Robot Uses A 'Gentle Hug' To Capture Jellyfish

If you look at jellyfish, it’s obvious how much they’re made for (or how much they’ve evolved to fit) the world that thrives underwater. For one thing, these gelatinous creatures have tentacles meant for slowly but surely flapping around. They also have umbrella-shaped bodies that are soft enough to withstand any pressure underwater and have no bones, making aquatic navigation all the more easier and convenient. And well, they’re around 95 percent water.

However, their soft bodies are not an advantage to scientists and researchers, who find it incredibly hard to safely catch them for scientific purposes. That is, until now, when a specially-designed robot that can mimic a human’s soft hand can catch them gently without harming them in any way whatsoever.

“Jellyfish and other gelatinous animals … have a huge amount of potential to teach us things,” Nina Sinatra, a mechanical engineer who designed and built the soft robot along with her colleagues, said. According to them, Sinatra and her team apparently designed the robot while at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Resembling a human hand, the soft robot has six soft fingers that can easily safely cradle a jellyfish, her team reported in the August 28 issue of Science Robotics. In fact, the robotic fingers are so soft that it can’t hold itself up while above water. Once submerged however, the dangly finger-like strips work really well, being made out of layers of soft and rubbery silicone.

“If we aren’t able to safely hold and handle these animals without damaging them, then it makes it really hard to study them,” Hannah Stuart, a mechanical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, who did not take part making the robot, said. 

“[The fingers] have a gentle grasping force. It’s really the first time that somebody has demonstrated this [approach to handling such soft objects],” added Stuart, who stated that the amount of force that the fingers exert is less than one newton, similar to the weight of an apple in one’s hand. To test it, however, the researchers need to attach it to a submersible. Thankfully, the robot itself is made to withstand underwater pressure and is strong enough to not be corroded by sea water.

According to Sinatra and her team, the robot project is meant to help researchers gather information on more underwater creatures.

At the moment, Sinatra is planning on modifying the hand to collect other types of information.

Jellyfish A compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) moving in open water, on may 26, 2016 in Marseille, France. Alexis Rosenfeld/Getty Images