They build a swimming robot that propels itself towards a butterfly faster than previous versions

Until now, the soft swimming robots they had not been able to swim faster than their body length per second. However, a group of scientists from the University of North Carolina in the United States broke this record.

Engineers have relied on marine animals, such as manta rays, which swim faster and more efficiently. Then they studied the biomechanics of these animals to see if they could “develop faster, more energy-efficient soft robots,” Jie Yin tells the University of North Carolina.

The prototypes that the Yin team designed work “exceptionally well”. These swimming bots are energy efficient and can swim more than four times faster than previous versions. Specifically, they are capable of moving at average speeds of 3.74 body lengths per second.

These robots are called “butterfly robot” because its movement resembles said swimming style. In the image above you can see the structure of the robot, which has a soft and bending body, two bistable flapping wings and two other flexible and extended wings. On the right side you can see the similarity of the robot’s movements to that of a person swimming like a butterfly.

How can they swim so fast?

These butterfly robots have two bistable wings; that is, they have two stable sides. These look like a hair clip, which can take two positions (open and closed) and in both it would be stable. These are attached to the silicone body of the robot.

To move from one stable position to another, scientists pump air into chambers inside the body of the robot. As those chambers inflate and deflate, the body bends up and down, forcing the wings to move back and forth with it. In this video you can see how the butterfly robot moves:

Previously, other science groups had used motorized wing-flapping robots to power their wings. However, researchers at the University of North Carolina, whose she studies was published in ‘Science Advances’, they managed to simplify this design and reduce its weight each specimen up to 2.8 grams.

However, its compressed air format prevents butterfly bots from turning left or right or maneuvering. Despite the model’s limitations, looking to the future, scientists are working to develop an “autonomous and free” version of the butterfly robot, Yin concludes.


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