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Snail-Like Robot Could Clean Oceans of Microplastics

The small-scale floating robot filters microplastics from the surface of oceans and lakes

Scarlett Evans

December 7, 2023

1 Min Read
Sunny Jung, professor of biological and environmental engineering (far right) and study coauthors (from left), Jisoo Yuk, Chris Roh and Yicong Fu
Sunny Jung, professor of biological and environmental engineering (far right) and study coauthors (from left), Jisoo Yuk, Chris Roh and Yicong FuCornell University

Cornell University researchers have developed a snail-like robot to scoop microplastics from the surfaces of oceans and lakes.

The small-scale design is based on the Hawaiian apple snail, which sucks in floating food particles by moving its “foot” in an undulating motion. 

"We were inspired by how this snail collects food particles at the [water and air] interface to engineer a device that could possibly collect microplastics in the ocean or at a water body's surface, " said Sunghwan Jung, lead author of the study.

The team 3D-printed a “carpet-like” sheet of material that can undulate, stimulated by a helical structure on the underside of the sheet that rotates like a corkscrew. It was also fitted with a flotation device to stop the robot’s battery and motor from sinking.

The team said the “open” system allows water to move through the device and filter out particles in an energy-efficient way.

“A…closed system, where the pump is enclosed and uses a tube to suck in water and particles, would require high energy inputs to operate,” the team said. “On the other hand, the snail-like open system is far more efficient.”

The prototype snail robot runs on only 5 volts of electricity while still effectively sucking in water, Jung said.

The team said the prototype would need to be scaled up to be practical in a real-world setting, with additional tests planned to determine the robot’s efficacy in commercial use.

Related:Robotic Jellyfish Designed to Target Ocean Pollution

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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