Engineering researchers from Virginia Tech College have partnered with several universities including the University of Texas in Dallas in the development of a life-like robotic jellyfish that, in a few years, could soon be utilised to autonomously patrol oceans in order to collect and report vital information.
The team, led by Shashank Priya of Blacksburg, Virginia and professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, unveiled the robot prototype nicknamed “Cyro” in 2012, and boasts an autonomous ability to swim very similarly to the species of jellyfish it was patterned after, the cyanea capillata. It will still be a few years before the robot is ready for full use in waters, but Priya’s team is already hard at work with a new prototype model at Virginia Tech’s Durham Hall, where Priya’s Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems is based.
According to Science Daily:
Its body consists of a rigid support structure with direct current electric motors which control the mechanical arms that are used in conjunction with an artificial mesoglea, or jelly-based pulp of the fish’s body, creating hydrodynamic movement.
With no central nervous system, jellyfish instead use a diffused nerve net to control movement and can complete complex functions. A parallel study on a bio-inspired control system is in progress which will eventually replace the current simplified controller. As with the smaller models, Cyro’s skin is composed of a thick layer of silicone, squishy in one’s hand. It mimics the sleek jellyfish skin and is placed over a bowl-shaped device containing the electronic guts of the robot. When moving, the skin floats and moves with the robot, looking weirdly alive.
Priya shares that it has been a great experience, designing a functional and bio-inspired piece of technology and hopes, that by gaining a deeper understanding of “nature’s secrets”, that they would soon be able to perfect the robot and make underwater surveillance and study a more convenient endeavor for biotechnology.