Swedish scientists at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have a knack for amphibious robots. With it’s wide grin and dotted eyes, the Pleurobot looks like a white and black skeletal salamander. The Swedish robotics team researched the Pleurodeles waltl (a type of newt, hence the name) and studied X-ray videos of the amphibian. The newt is unique in it’s monotonous movements and how it can seamlessly go from increasing its walking speed to swimming. This robot version was made out of a concise 11 spinal pieces and very accurately imitates the slither of its real counterpart. The long term goal of recreating these vertebrae and movements is to eventually be able to duplicate this in humans. “Being able to re-stimulate those circuits in humans in the long term is something very important, and for that you need to understand how the spinal cord works,” explains project leader Auke Ijspeert (interview originally published in TechCrunch).
The Swedish team followed up their slithering salamander with another bio-robotic creature: the Envirobot. This 4-foot water serpent is released into lakes to and streams to test for toxins. The Envirobot is used less for studying its animal inspiration and more for helping scientists track environmental changes and factors. The eel is equipped with sensors to detect pollution and other factors. The head holds all the technical bits of the eel – control center, wiring, camera, computer – and from there the info gathered by the sensors is stored. The sensors are broken down into electric, chemical, and biological. Each capturing different data.
The Envirobot, pictured above, is made of several different sensor panels (source: TechCrunch).
Electrical: salinity of water
Chemical: elements like acidity
Biological: this sensor is unique. They have real living organisms that will react based on what is in the water. For example, insecticides.
Envirobot dries off after a swim (source: News Atlas).
It was designed this way to in order to disrupt the natural flow and habitat of the lakes as little as possible, to essentially fit in with the other inhabitants. Being autonomous makes it even more undetectable. So next time you are swimming in Lake Geneva don’t be alarmed if the Enviro-bot slithers past you…