Behold Mantabot! Engineers at the University of Virginia have crafted a seaworthy mechanical ray that may usher in the next generation of autonomous oceangoing robots. Inspired by our favorite undersea flyer, the robot ray mimics the graceful flap and glide swim style of batoid rays, a group that includes stingrays and manta rays.
The rays beautiful swim style produces an efficient and effective thrust, which is why engineers were interested in mimicking them. Indeed, they use their wing-like pectoral fins to swim, maneuver, and glide soundlessly over great distances with minimal energy. Manta rays, Mantabot’s big brother namesake, can migrate up to 700 miles in just 60 days.
A stealthy, energy-efficient swimming robot that looks like any other sea creature is just the type of robot you’d want exploring a great big ocean filled with delicate ecosystems and easily startled fish. It would also be the perfect type of robot to carry out sensitive military surveillance. It’s no secret (yet) that this project is funded by the Office of Naval Research.
“Biology has solved the problem of locomotion with these animals, so we have to understand the mechanisms if we are going to not only copy how the animal swims, but possibly even to improve upon it,” said Hilary Bart-Smith, associate professor at the University of Virginia and team leader.
Check out Mantabot in action: