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article imageSuper-sensitive robot can now hold a jellyfish

By Tim Sandle     Feb 28, 2020 in Science
The ability of robots to sense and touch, long held as one of the main limitations with the advance of robotics, has been boosted by new research. A robot has been developed that can safely pick up a jellyfish, with harming the aquatic creature.
The development has been led by marine biologists based at the American Museum of Natural History, working with technologists, to create ''soft robotic linguine fingers'' to be used as investigational tools for undersea research projects. The aim of the study was to determine whether jellyfish picked up by ultra-soft robotic fingers demonstrated fewer stress-related genes compared when they were picked up by standard submersible grippers.
The new robotic fingers look a little like noodles (hence the reference to linguine fingers), but they are very effective. By using soft robotics, the marine biologists demonstrated not only that it easier to pick up a jellyfish and not to damage it, but also that it was possible to take swabs of DNA and to undertaken a general medical check-up of a jellyfish.
Key to the design were the materials used. These needed to be flexible, tough, lightweight, and also sufficiently sensitive for the robotic controller to understand the amount of pressure applied to the object that has been collected.
The new robotic technology allows should help marine biologists to collect ecological data in a less invasive manner and to obtain information about sea creatures that is more meaningful to how the creature responds in the marine environment, rather than being artificially affected by the stress of being handled by research scientists.
To assess this, the researchers looked at gene expression, as Michael Tessler, one of the scientists involved, explains: "Using genomics, we confirm that newly developed soft robots are a kinder way to handle some of the slipperiest organisms: jellyfish."
He adds that: "With new technologies we can often make massive advances on techniques, like deep-sea animal handling."
The design and application of the robot has been outlined in the journal Current Biology. The research paper is titled "Ultra-gentle soft robot fingers induce minimal transcriptomic response in a fragile marine animal during handling."
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