In a study on a new design for sensors , mechatronics researchers at Jeju National University in South Korea are exploring how the role of vibrissae – whiskers – can be transferred to underwater robots to improve their control, navigational, and object recognition abilities. The individual components are printed on a 3D printer with multiple heads: Four 60-mm-long sensors, each measuring 0.3 mm in diameter, were printed at 90-degree angles around a 160-mm-tall, 8-mm-wide polyurethane cylinder, then bound together with a copper band and wire. When underwater, the sensors recognize flow and resistance changes in four directions (up, down, left, right) and send the information on the detected vortices to a microcontroller. The tests conducted so far have been successful and indicate sensors that can above all be manufactured at low costs.
But components to improve navigational abilities are not the only potential result of this research; in the future, entire underwater vehicles could be produced through 3D printing: The U.S. military is investigating something similar for submarine construction and hopes to reduce the production process to just a few days in addition to cutting production costs by 90%.