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Soft Robot to Swim Through Europa's Oceans

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An artist's rendering depicts a soft robotic rover, resembling a squid or lamprey, that can swim though oceans.

Cornell University researchers will work on the development of a soft, swimming robot that can explore other worlds.

Credit: NASA/National Science Foundation

Cornell University researchers have received a nine-month, $100,000 U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration grant to develop a soft, swimming robot that can explore other worlds, such as Jupiter's moon Europa.

The project combines aerospace and system engineering for space applications research, with experiments involving soft-machine concepts, including deformable robots made with state-of-the-art three-dimensional printing techniques and materials. "We're proposing a soft robot that can behave like a fish, specifically a lamprey," says Cornell professor Rob Shepherd.

The proposed robotic system would harvest power from the existing strong electromagnetic field of the alien world using tentacle-like structures that serve as electrodynamic tethers. In addition, the robot will be equipped with a stretchable, electroluminescent skin for illuminating the local marine environment, making it possible to record underwater images.

The researchers are focusing on Europa because it is suspected to have a subsurface ocean, which could possibly serve as a habitat for life. "This robotic concept is inspired by terrestrial biology, and may help us understand how creatures in an environment like Europa's ocean could gather energy to sustain life," says Cornell professor Mason Peck.

From Cornell Chronicle
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