A robot inspired by a snail could help clean microplastics

Scientific innovation seeks alternatives in nature, such as this robot inspired by a snail to fight the problem of microplastics.

Plastic pollution represents a clear and present threat to ecosystems, and one of the most dangerous forms is microplastics. These tiny plastic particles can accumulate in animal tissues, including ours, and even cross the blood-brain barrier, causing serious health consequences.

Scientists are trying to find creative ways to clean up the environment. Recently, they proposed adding natural plant compounds called tannins to a layer of wood dust to create a filter that captures most of the microplastics found in water.

A robot inspired by a snail, the new innovation

Now, another group of American researchers has proposed another solution: a robot based on the Hawaiian apple snail (Pomacea Canaliculate). According to the researchers, this snail uses “undulating movements of their paws to push water to the surface and suck up floating food particles”. It was this feature that intrigued them, and their prototype was able to collect microplastics by imitating the movements of a snail.

Scientists say that these robots could one day be deployed on the surface of oceans, seas and lakes, although this would require adapting their prototypes to real-world conditions.

Sunghwan Jung, professor in the Department of Biology, Environment and Engineering at Cornell University explains: “We were inspired by the way this snail collects food particles at the air-water interface to develop a device that can collect microscopic plastic particles in the ocean or on water surfaces".

Scientists used a 3D printer to create a flexible mat that can have a wavy shape like the bottom of a snail. They achieved this by using a fabric that rotated like a corkscrew, which caused the carpet to undulate and thus create waves in the water.

"The liquid pumping system based on the snail technique is open to air", the researchers noted, adding that "A similar closed system, in which the pump is closed and uses a tube to suck in water and particles, would require a lot of energy and inputs to operate."

Not its open snail-type system, which is much more efficient. According to Jung, his prototype works with a voltage of only 5 volts, absorbing water effectively. Of course, a much larger model would require more power, so the researchers suggest placing a flotation device on the robot to prevent it from sinking. Solar panels could provide electricity.

These innovative solutions will be key to reducing the large amount of microplastics in our oceans, seas and lakes. For example, a recent study found that all lakes studied were contaminated with microplastics.


With information of: https://www.sustainability-times.com/