Beyond the world of wheels, rotors, legs, and tracks is a whole animal kingdom full of inspiration for how to move a body through space. Consider, if you will, the undulations of an eels fins or a manta ray’s body, a continuous flapping motion that propels through water.
The Velox, by Plaint Energy Systems, is inspired by a whole menagerie of creatures, creating a robot that moves naturally through water, over land, and across ice. As sketched out by Plaint, this surreal biomimicry machine could have a role to play in future beach landings.
The Velox is an electric platform and an eclectic platform explicitly based around the movements of rays, millipedes, squid, and snakes. The body seems somewhat scalable, with larger versions adapted for more payload or cargo storage and smaller models for more constrained spaces.
In most of the released video of the Velox, it is a tethered machine, trailing a long physical cord behind it for data transfer and remote controls, but the company also says it can operate autonomously. And there is video of it skating across ice, free from tethers and as wild and strange as a hockey team’s mascot.
What those sensors might be are likely still to be determined. Video shows it carrying a GoPro-style camera, with another camera pod mounted in a flexible casing on the front of the vehicle. Concept art suggest this as the ultimate direction for the vehicle, electro-optical and other cameras pointed forward. Cargo carried could include medical supplies and even ammunition, as shown in another piece of concept art.
Pliant boasts of applications in environmental research and aquaculture, the soft fins far gentler on plants and the surrounding environs than traditional propellers would be. Those same traits make it a stealthy, somewhat discreet machine, and while it may not be as camouflaged as robots in the shape of actual animals, it could be used as a sand-combing scout or riverine infiltrator alongside Marines.
There’s even a whole concept of operations outlined for how the Velox might work in a littoral incursion. First, a Velox would deploy far from shore and then travel autonomously underwater. Swimming closer to or on the surface, it could send video feed and other data back to surface vessels, drones or satellites. Once on the shore, it would transition to a land vehicle, working much the same and available for remote control.
It should, at this point, come as no surprise that the Office of Naval Research is one of the funders for the Velox’s development. The future of robots at sea is at least as strange as that of robots in air and on land, and wars of the future could include creatures pulled straight from the uncanny valley and given waterproof flesh.
Watch the Velox below: