What do jellyfish and moths have in common? They both move toward light. Phototaxis, a natural phenomenon by which organisms move toward or away from light, explains why the two quite different animals are attracted to light. Scientists at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering designed a swimming robot that uses light both for power and steering. The researchers published their work in Science Robotics.

OsciBot, the UCLA robot, is named for its oscillating tail. It moves as directed by constant, direct light. Constructed of a phototactic hydrogel, the OsciBot does just one thing but does it consistently. The OsciBot does not draw on battery power or any other stored energy source, but instead responds to the presence of light.

According to the UCLA scientists, the OsciBot’s phototactic technology could have potential applications for ocean-going robots and autonomous ships. It’s exciting to consider that controlling and powering movement with light may have implications for personal mobility as well, via prosthetics or micromobility alternatives. It’s conceivable that this might lead to robots that could maneuver within a patient’s body to achieve a medical mission.