Deep under the ocean

Capturing jellyfish, squid and octopus can be fun.

Ocean consist of widest range of species and many are still unexplored. Exploring soft-bodied deep sea creatures like jellyfish, squid and  octopus have been a difficult task for marine biologists as exiting underwater tools cause damage or even  kill them.

Now, a new device developed by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study safely traps delicate sea creatures inside a folding polyhedral enclosure and lets them go without harm using a novel, origami-inspired design. The research is reported in Science Robotics.

“We approach these animals as if they are works of art: Would we cut pieces out of the ‘Mona Lisa’ to study it? No — we’d use the most innovative tools available. These deep-sea organisms, some being thousands of years old, deserve to be treated with a similar gentleness when we’re interacting with them,” said collaborating author David Gruber, who is a 2017‒2018 Radcliffe Fellow, National Geographic Explorer, and professor of biology and environmental science at Baruch College, CUNY.

“Origami, the Japanese art of folding, is used as an inspiration to help us build 3D objects from 2D sheets.We have developed a way to fold 3D shapes from its 2D net using only one actuator [component responsible for movement],” explains Dr. Zhi Ern Teoh from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. “Minimizing the number of actuators is key because incorporating actuators is a relatively more complex engineering task and you have to figure out ways of attaching, powering, sensing and coordinating the folds. Therefore even though the system of linkages looks more complex, it consists entirely of revolute joints which are mechanically much simpler.”

The idea to apply folding properties to underwater sample collection began in 2014 when first author Zhi Ern Teoh took a class from Chuck Hoberman, a Wyss associate faculty member and Pierce Anderson Lecturer in Design Engineering at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, about creating folding mechanisms through computational means. “I was building microrobots by hand in graduate school, which was very painstaking and tedious work, and I wondered if there was a way to fold a flat surface into a 3-D shape using a motor instead,” said Teoh, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute in the lab of Robert Wood; he is now an engineer at Cooper Perkins.

The device — named Rotary Actuated Dodecahedron (RAD) — can be attached to any remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The pilot of the ROV uses cameras to position the sampler near a sea creature of interest and then tells the operator of the sampler to close the sampler, entrapping the creature. The device was tested in the open ocean at a depth of 1,600 to 2,300 ft and the researchers say that it can be modified to withstand higher pressures at increasing depths.

This will help biologists to capture creatures from deep under the ocean and help us to know more about the world that resides beneath the waters.

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