New technologies, such as Drones, are definitely making their mark on the future both above the ocean’s surface, and underwater. The latest subaquatic technology includes a “chameleon” drone that is here to change the future of coral reef ecosystems. Its name is RoboRay and it is designed to look like different species of marine life in an effort to blend technology with biology. In the case of the bot we look at in this study, Roboray is of course no other than a manta ray.


The design

Roboray was designed by ocean researchers based at Zhejiang University in China to look like a manta ray. The designers intentionally used transparent silicon parts, because they are mostly invisible to the vast majority of marine organisms. The “fins” of Roboray are a flexible polymer material while the rest of the body design is silicon. Thus, this will allow Roboray to do its job with as little incidental impact to marine life as possible. The delicate nature of Roboray could also allow expansive exploration studies, like shipwrecks, with low to no risk of damaging them. Roboray is 9.3 cm or 3.7 in long and weighs 90 grams or 3.2 oz.

Roboray is also battery powered and equipped with a small video camera to monitor its surroundings. By not having a motor, and instead being powered by a lithium battery, many mechanical obstacles may be avoided and allows a soft electronic design. This allows Roboray to easily navigate whichever marine environment it is in without causing any disruption or damage. The drone has a silicone tail with an electromagnet inside to help it steer.

While the battery allows for easy maneuverability and minimal to no damage to the marine environment, Roboray can only operate up to three hours on a single charge. This could definitely be a long term challenge or aspect for improvement since Roboray currently cannot stay underwater for long periods of time.

Roboray can swim at a speed of about 6.4 cm or 2.5 in per second which in comparison is much slower than a similar sized fish. Similar sized marine life would most likely be able to swim up to four times faster than Roboray. Since it is designed with a manta ray in mind it swims very similar to the living organism, by periodically flapping their pectoral fins. In Roboray’s case, its fins are powered by cyclic voltage that squeezes the flexible polymer material they are made of then causing the fins to move up and down, or flap, thus propelling Roboray through the ocean. The researchers in China used 3D printing methods in order to make particular parts of Roboray. In order to design the “muscles” of Roboray, they used a thin hydrogel film squeezed in between two stretched membranes. It is designed to swim in both and hot temperatures making it a possible universal ocean guardian. The range described by the researchers is 32°Fto 165°F. Meet Roboray for yourself below:

The future

Bots and drones like Roboray are absolutely critical to not only trying to reverse the certain peril the oceans currently face but also to help us learn more about the oceans we coincidently know so little about.

Check out the full research project of Roboray, published in the journal Science Advances.


References and photos courtesy of:

Night Manta Experience