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Studying Fragile Marine Life with a Glove-Controlled Robotic Arm

We all use remote controls to change channels or open garage doors. Now researchers have developed a robotic arm to help unlock the mysteries of the ocean, and it’s controlled with a remote device in the form of a wearable glove. This glove-controlled arm can go deeper than any diver, and its fluid, flexible design limits harm to delicate marine life. The team that developed the system includes Professor David Gruber (Baruch College, The Graduate Center, CUNY), a marine biologist. 

color photo of the underwater robotic arm
Underwater robotic arm

Previously, researchers were limited to “industrial robotic arms, claws, and suction samplers,” but using them for more delicate marine life was a problem given how rough interactions could be. Scuba diving offered one workaround, but again was limited by how deep a diver could go. With the “soft robotic manipulator” that Gruber’s team created, researchers can safely plumb the ocean’s depths below 150 meters (492 feet), and therefore better handle a variety of creatures. In fact, the research team successfully tested their robotic arm at over 2,300 meters (7,546 feet). Their study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Gruber intends to use the technology to study numerous aspects of deep-sea life, “such as aging,” he said. “It is very interesting to us how some deep-sea marine life can live for thousands of years. In the future, we aim to use these novel robotic devices to perform in-situ studies of deep marine life that ultimately leaves them unharmed.”

The robotic arm development follows another equally renowned leap forward. Earlier in 2018, Gruber and a team of marine scientists and engineers made headlines when they developed an origami-like claw to study jellyfish underwater without squishing them. “The project started with ‘Squishy Robot Fingers’ and has since evolved into this glove-operated ‘Squishy Robot Arm,’” Gruber explained in an interview.

Gruber’s robotic arm team included scientists from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Vanderbilt University, and Yale University School of Medicine.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
“A Dexterous, Glove-Based Teleoperable Low-Power Soft Robotic Arm for Delicate Deep-Sea Biological Exploration”

Work By
David Gruber (Presidential Professor, Biology and Environmental Science) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Colleges and Schools
Baruch College
The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
“No more Iron Man: submarines now have soft, robotic arms” (Wyss Institute)
“Soft Robotic Arm Allows Scientists to Explore Delicate Marine Life at Great Depths” (GC News)

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