Robotic Crabs And Clams Will One Day Inhabit The Ocean Floor

By Joelle Renstrom | 7 years ago

CrabsterThe shipwreck investigating robot turtle is pretty adorable, but not all robotic sea creatures follow this cute and cuddly model. In fact, the new robo-crab is gigantic and terrifying. Even though it presumably doesn’t have any predatory programming, you can never be sure.

The six-legged Crabster CR200 weighs over 1,000 pounds and is nearly 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide. It was developed by the Korean Institute of Ocean Science and Technology in order to explore the deepest, darkest, and most dangerous depths of all the oceans. Crabster solves two problems with one crustacean. First, human divers can’t go as deep or as long as something that doesn’t need to breathe. Second, propeller-driven submersibles often get pushed off-course by strong tides and currents. So the scientists modeled their creation after lobsters, crabs, and other sea creatures that walk around on the bottom of the ocean despite those feisty waters.

crabsterLike those crustaceans that serve as its inspiration, Crabster adapts to currents and pressure. It also has 30 motors, so whoever remotely pilots the metal creature can help it adjust to changing conditions. Capable of carring over 400 pounds worth of cargo, if all goes well, perhaps some of that will be treasure and artifacts from the ocean depths. There’s also sonar to help it scan for objects on the ocean floor, and cameras that transmit images to the human pilots who can then maneuver the device in for a closer look.

So far, Crabster has passed every test with flying colors, though developers continue to upgrade and improve its capabilities. One of the biggest challenges is speed, or lack thereof—it moves about 4 inches per second, and at that rate it takes a while to traverse an ocean floor. Still, it’s slated to start combing the Yellow Sea for ancient relics next month. In the future, it could help with oil spills, mining, or other underwater work.

Crabster isn’t the only new underwater robot to hit the waves. RoboClam, developed by a mechanical engineer at MIT, has mastered the shellfish art of burrowing under the sand. Modeled on the Atlantic razor clam, which can dig into the muck on the ocean floor at about 1 centimeter per second without expending much energy at all, RoboClam replicates these movements with impressive verisimilitude.

Razor clam on the left, RoboClam on the right
A razor clam triumphs over friction by turning the soil around its body into liquid, or quicksand, via shell movement. The clam does this by triggering a small landslide when contracting and retracting its shell and funneling water into the gap. They then built a mechanical replica with accordion-like half-shells so they could practice the contraction and get the right movements and speeds. When they moved the model to salt water, they installed an air compression system for power, and are currently working on an electronic version.

RoboClam has more applications than one might initially think. It could monitor the status of the deep ocean, dig into the ocean floor, serve as an anchor for other autonomous vehicles, or even lay cables underwater. Both RoboClam and Crabster are examples of nature inspiring robotics, we’ll just have to wait and see how the robots inspire nature.

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