Remotely operated vehicles have changed how we explore and exploit the ocean. They can operate for far longer than human-occupied vehicles, go into areas where risk would dictate people avoid, and reach depths where very few craft can take a human. But even so, a lot of the hardware gets taken up by an enclosure that's capable of protecting things like batteries and electronics from the pressures of the deep.
But that may not be entirely necessary, based on a report in today's Nature. In it, a team of Chinese researchers describe adapting hardware so that it could operate a soft-bodied robot in the deep ocean. The researchers then gave the robot a ride 10 kilometers down in the Mariana Trench and showed that it worked.
Mention robots, and for many people, the first thing that comes to mind are the collections of metal and cabling that make up things like the dancing Atlases from Boston Robotics. But over the last decade, plenty of researchers have demonstrated that all that rigid hardware isn't strictly necessary. Soft-bodied robots work, too, and can do interesting things like squeeze through tight spaces or incorporate living cells into their structure.