This swimming eel-robot does not make me happy. Watching its long, black, mechanical body move underwater, its red eyes glowing, makes my nerves twitch. The discomfort is primal. I have every sense that it’s a predator, snaking its way through murky depths to ensnare, suffocate, and digest me. My id fails to register that this is just a robot, designed to perform inspections and do simple maintenance on undersea equipment.
The robot is made by a Norwegian company called Eelume, which this week partnered with Norwegian companies Statoil and Kongsberg Maritime to fast-track production of these serpentine machines. The idea is that they’ll develop these robots to live on the seafloor, cleaning and keeping check on undersea equipment and performing simple tasks like tightening loose valves with their clamp-like mouths. I can reason, having no foreseeable plans myself to travel to the bottom of the ocean, that I’ll never encounter one of Eelume’s robots. Even if I did, they would care little for me — unless my deep-diving vessel had a loose screw. Still, they’ll be out there. Slithering.