Giant Robotic Jellyfish Readied for Sea Patrol

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And I thought a robotic turtle was cool. Now a giant robotic jellyfish is being readied to take to the seas, all in the name of science.

Mechanical engineers at Virginia Tech College of Engineering have been developing an autonomous robotic jellyfish they think could be an efficient way to monitor ocean conditions, map ocean floors and study aquatic life. Last year they created a small hand-sized version called RoboJelly. Recently they debuted an enormous prototype (video) nicknamed Cyro.

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This robot has a mechanical system with eight arms and linear actuators that are controlled by electronics housed inside a bowl-shaped device. A rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery provides power. The skin is actually a large blob of silicone that floats with the robot, mimicking a real jellyfish. Cyro is 5 feet 7 inches in size and weighs a whopping 170 pounds, but it moves through the water easily.

The engineers looked to jellyfish because these creatures naturally consume little energy and thrive in a wide range of ocean conditions. Cyro is modeled after a real giant jellyfish known as lion’s mane or Cyanea capillata. The project is being led by professor Shashank Priya and supported by the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Office of Naval Research.

Since ocean monitoring, exploration, and even clean-up in the case of an oil spill would be time-consuming, the team hopes Cyro can operate underwater continuously for weeks or even months. That’s the goal anyway. Next the engineers say they want to refine the robot, reducing energy consumption and improving its swimming abilities in collaboration with several partner universities.

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I just wonder how aquatic life will really behave around this robot. Maybe they should add a stinger.

Photo: The prototype robotic jellyfish Cyro goes for a swim. Credit: Virginia Tech (video). 

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