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This robotic arm can carefully grab delicate sea creatures without harming them

The RAD sampler overcomes the tricky task of safely getting hold of soft-bodied critters.

RAD sampler

A robotic arm that can catch delicate sea creatures without harming them has been created by researchers at Harvard University.

Safely grabbing soft-bodied species such as jellyfish and octopuses is a tricky task overcome by the RAD sampler, which carefully forms a ball shape around its target.

“We approach these animals as if they are works of art: would we cut pieces out of the Mona Lisa to study it? No – we’d use the most innovative tools available,” said David Gruber, one of the scientists working on the project within Harvard’s Wyss Institute.

“These deep-sea organisms, some being thousands of years old, deserve to be treated with a similar gentleness when we’re interacting with them.”

The grabber uses 12 pentagon-shaped parts and five 3D-printed polymer “petals” that are human-controlled using a joystick.

The RAD sampler.
The RAD sampler (Wyss Institute at Harvard University)

“The RAD sampler design is perfect for the difficult environment of the deep ocean because its controls are very simple, so there are fewer elements that can break,” said Zhi Ern Teoh, who first looked into folding underwater properties in 2014.

“It’s also modular, so, if something does break, we can simply replace that part and send the sampler back down into the water.

“This folding could also be well-suited to be used in space, which is similar to the deep ocean in that it’s a low-gravity, inhospitable environment that makes operating any device challenging.”

At present, the device can only catch and release creatures but the group hopes to add cameras and sensors in the future, which would enable them to collect data on the animal such as its size, material properties and even genome.

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