There are few more graceful swimmers in the ocean than the ray – “batiod” rays, such as mantas and stingrays, are quick, agile, and energy-efficient. Engineers are using these fascinating creatures as inspiration for the Mantabot, a new autonomous underwater vehicle. The Mantabot’s plastic body and and silicone fins are modeled from a direct molding of the cownose ray, and it glides through the water with the same flapping motions as its living counterparts.
Scientists at the University of Virginia, UCLA, Princeton, and the West Chester University have teamed up to build a new, dynamic robot that mimics one of best-adapted creatures of the deep. The Mantabot’s large, wing-like fins are able to change shape by expanding or contracting rods controlled by remote computer signals and it’s powered by a battery held in the main casing. The team’s biologists and engineers studied live specimens and dissections of the animals to provide insight into how to achieve the most amount of propulsion with the least amount of energy.
“We are studying a creature to understand how it is able to swim so beautifully, and we are hoping to improve upon it,” says Hilary Bart-Smith, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Virginia, “We are learning from nature, but we also are innovating; trying to move beyond emulation.”
Developers hope that the Mantabot will eventually become autonomous and able to be deployed for long periods of time without the need to surface and refuel. There is also the potential for the size to be adapted to carry payloads or recording equipment. The mechanical fish may soon find a future in oil spill cleanup, scientific exploration, pollution monitoring, and military applications.