Sepios, a four-finned, omnidirectional robot built by students at ETH Zurich, could inspire a new generation of eco-friendly, aquatic androids.
Based loosely on an ocean cuttlefish, its four fins each contain nine rays, all with a 270-degree range of motion.
The device has also been fitted with several controls for distance and altitude and an underwater video camera.
Co-designer Alessandro Schappi explains how the device works underwater.
“We are using this space mouse and to move around in six degrees of freedom in space. So if we want to dive down we need the two fins on the side to flap up and do a standing wave to dive down. So we just press the space mouse down and as you can see we are diving down. To dive up the opposite, just press it up and we are swimming up. If you want to dive to the front, we can push the space mouse to the front and here you see four waves which give a propulsion to the front. To go back exactly the same.”
By generating thrust with the fins, a variety of acrobatic motions such as barrel rolls are possible. The latex fins are immune to underwater obstacles, making Sepios well-suited to observing and filming marine life.
It took a bit of time to get used to steering the robot underwater, said co-designer Martin Moller.
“When we went to the sea of France we were able to cross sea grass without entangling and we could film some fish with our onboard webcam and project that via a livestream to our laptop and use that for steering as well.”
The two students insist that Sepios’s strength lies not in its speed – up to four metres per second – but its agility.
Tests showed that one one charge of its battery pack allowed 90 minutes of use, descending to a maximum of 10 metres.
They hope Sepios could be used in underwater pipeline, as well as sealife and fauna research.
The pair say they also plan to develop further aquatic robots.