Remotely operated robotic vehicles are critical for underwater exploration, but their tools generally aren’t suited for sampling fragile marine life.
“They were using rigid Jaws of Life-type grippers designed for the oil and gas industry that were totally overpowered and were destroying things,” said Harvard engineer Robert Wood in a news release from the school’s Wyss Institute. “It immediately clicked that there was a soft robotics solution that may be viable.”
He and David Gruber, a biologist at Baruch College in the City University of New York, collaborated on a set of spongy grippers that could hold onto things like kelp and soft coral without crushing them. One coils around thin specimens like a boa constrictor, while another grips like a pair of hands. Other types can easily be designed and manufactured if a specific grip or different size is required.
The team’s work is documented in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Soft Robotics.