Eleanor Mackintosh

This 3D-printed robotic fish collects microplastics from UK waterways

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a University of Surrey Student has developed a 3D-printed robotic fish capable of catching harmful microplastics from lakes and rivers.

The bio-inspired robot by student Eleanor Mackintosh consists of a weatherproof tail unit and submersible head section, and features gills that collect and retain small plastic particles, while letting water flow directly through them. Nicknamed ‘Gillbert’, the salmon-sized robot has already been tested in the lab and lake, and its innovative design has seen it crowned an award winner. 2022 Natural Robotics Competition.

“We don’t know where the vast majority of plastic that gets thrown into our waterways ends up,” said Dr Robert Siddall, a lecturer at the University of Surrey and creator of the competition. “We hope that this robotic fish and its future descendants will be the first steps in the right direction to help us find and eventually control this problem of plastic pollution.”

Award winning robo fish design

Mackintosh created her design as an entry for the Natural Robotics Competition, a University of Surrey competition that encourages the public to create robots capable of helping the world. Over the summer, the university received many entries inspired by everything from mosquitoes to bears, which were then judged by an international panel.

we asked at the beginning of summer [entrants] To create designs for robots that were inspired by animals and it was amazing,” Siddall explained. “The selection was tough, but we had to pick a winner. Our judges selected Eleanor Mackintosh’s robotic fish that travel around the ocean, picking up plastic for sampling or removal purposes.”

Ultimately, the judges crowned Gilbert the winner, due to its potential as a way to tackle the growing amount of plastic pollution in the UK’s waterways. The robotic fish itself features a set of gills on either side with a fine mesh between them, which enables it to filter out plastic particles as small as just two millimeters.

3D printed robotic fish design by Eleanor Mackintosh “Gilbert”. Image via University of Surrey.

In practical terms, the robot is designed to open its “mouth” and close its nostrils while swallowing water, before closing its cavity and opening its nostrils to filter out and retain microplastics. As the winner of the Natural Robotics competition, the Mackintosh’s design was brought to life in the form of a working prototype. brought to life with a Prusa MiniThe glow-in-the-dark fish has already demonstrated its ability to capture tiny particles in a lake in the United Kingdom, but Siddall is still hoping to improve it.

“We’re very happy with it, but there are still some improvements to be made,” said Siddall. “We’d like to make it swim a little faster, it has a great front draft so we need a little more power in the tail and some improvement to the flippers. Marry [also] Want to make it smarter? Right now it’s remote controlled, we want it to run on its own.”

Gilbert is also slated to be deployed to support other robots the university is using to trawl lakes for microplastics, Siddall says, albeit for research purposes, rather than to clean the water for good. After the success of the 2022 competition, the 2023 edition is already being prepared for participation and is expected to start early next year.

Gilbert's working prototype glows in the dark.  Image via University of Surrey.
Gilbert’s working prototype glows in the dark. Image via University of Surrey.

3D printed designs inspired by bio

Nature is full of animal and plant life that have evolved to develop enviable characteristics, and continue to provide design for 3D printed parts and structures. For example, earlier this year, researchers developed a 3D printing material inspired by mantis shrimp With the possibility of producing composite ceramic composite aerospace or power parts.

The U.S. militaryMeanwhile, it had previously filed a patent for a method of applying camouflage to optical components that would make them “invisible” to the naked eye. using a A 3D printed roller inspired by a moth Designed at the US Army’s Night Vision Laboratory, it may be possible to stamp the pattern that makes the moth appear invisible on rifle scopes or binoculars.

In the past, scientists at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and United States Office of Naval Research They also built 3D printed robotic jellyfish. Featuring a printed body with eight smooth hydraulic net actuators extending from its center, the moon-shaped jellyfish-like design is said to be able to monitor the condition of fragile corals.

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The featured image shows a 3D-printed robotic fish design for Eleanor Mackintosh’s “Gillbert”. Image via University of Surrey.

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