you're reading...

deep sea

A Gentle (Robotic) Hand

Paper: Vogt DM, Becker KP, Phillips BT, Graule MA, Rotjan RD, Shank TM, et al. (2018) Shipboard design and fabrication of custom 3D-printed soft robotic manipulators for the investigation of delicate deep-sea organisms. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0200386. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200386

A glass sea sponge. Scientists have discovered glass sponges aged at around 18,000 years old. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Marine scientists are hard at work learning everything they can about the big blue, which is absolutely necessary seeing as how we know more about space than we do about the ocean. The world of deep-sea environments is fascinating, holding critters that have been aged at over 18,000 years old. The potential knowledge sourced from deep-sea organisms is therefore astounding. Scientists are able to extract information such as changes in paleonutrient content in the ocean over large periods of time just by sampling these long-lived critters. There is so much to learn from what we’ve yet to actually see.

Understanding the ocean in detail is tedious and time consuming work: only in the last 5 decades have we developed technology advanced enough to non-invasively observe the ocean. To truly map out the various ecosystems that lie within and discover species we either never knew existed or have very little information on, scientists need to gear up and dive in. The current tools of choice are submersible vehicles. In order to analyze organisms up close, these vehicles are equipped with hard, inflexible materials that serve as “arms” or “hands”. However, many of these deep-sea animals are incredibly fragile, and hard devices often hurt and damage delicate species. Deep-sea knowledge is indispensable – so how can we continue to study these organisms without hurting them?

The answer lies in a gentle, soft touch.

With the increased accessibility of 3D printing, scientists are now creating soft manipulators, using flexible materials, to attach onto submersible vehicles. Because these appendages are so delicate, they ease the process of collecting fragile samples. These tools have the added bonus of conforming to the shape of the manipulated organism. 3D printing offers another unique advantage: that of real-time problem solving and adaptive solutions. When observing in remote areas for long periods of time with minimal space on board, researchers often lack abundant resources. If a tool doesn’t work properly, the entire observation is compromised. With 3D printing, researchers can now learn from obstacles or problems, and adapt to create ad-hoc tools for observation.

The ability to 3D print soft manipulators both drastically reduces time it takes to produce them, but also enables real-time, remote production. Source: Vogt et al. (2018)

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area. This is the largest marine protected area in the world and encompasses 8 islands in Kiribati. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Vogt et al. (2018) experimented with 3D printing custom soft robotic appendages attached to submersible vehicles in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). PIPA is the largest UNESCO World Heritage site which means the area holds an extremely unique environment with high biodiversity. As a protected area, PIPA experiences minimal human activity – making this largely unexplored region perfect to test out soft manipulators on understudied, deep-sea coral, invertebrates, coral epifauna, and sediment. Inspired by soft manipulators initially developed at the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, Vogt et al. (2018) adapted appendages based on real-time learned experiences. Their first few dives were to test out these previously built appendages, and the consequent dives allowed Vogt et al. (2018) to modify them based on various challenges. Initial adaptations added a flexible “palm” attached to “fingers” which decreased the force of accidentally colliding with surrounding marine objects. Consequent adaptations introduced interchangeable “fingernails” to the tips of the soft, compliant “fingers” which allowed researchers to better grasp organisms from underneath when they were settled on hard surfaces.

Adapted, 3D printed soft manipulators. Source: Vogt et al. (2018)

Vogt et al. (2018) saw success in their real-time, adaptive solutions, ultimately creating a purpose built tool kit meant to delicately handle fragile marine life. They were able to collect a goniasterid (a type of sea star) laying on hard substrate without incurring any damage to the organism, something near impossible to achieve using inflexible, hard manipulators. They were even able to gently replace organisms such as glass sponges back onto hard substrata they were found on.

Grasping a sea star (goniasterid) Source: Vogt et al. (2018)

Comparisons of the 3D printed soft manipulators to how we gently hold objects with our hands. Source: Vogt et al. (2018)

Innovation is the center of science, and 3D printing soft, flexible manipulators is the perfect example of how adaptive creativity can increase our understanding of the blue frontier. When we have the chance to study the ocean non-invasively and in even greater detail, we can work more effectively to protect every ecosystem and organism that lives within it.


No comments yet.

Post a Comment


  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Happy Earth Day! Take some time today to do something for the planet and appreciate the ocean, which covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.  #EarthDay   #OceanAppreciation   #Oceanbites   #CoastalVibes   #CoastalRI 
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com