Robotic Jellyfish Could Stand Guard Over Oceans

Although you may only use them for swimming or fishing, the oceans are some of the busiest thoroughfares on the planet. Fleets of tankers, cruisers, drilling platforms, and barges constantly criss-cross the globe via these aquatic highways, leaving string of pollution and environmental destruction in their wake. Regulators can’t be everywhere, all the time, but robotic jellyfish could.

Cryo is an autonomous robot with eight mechanical legs and a silicon balloon. Created by a team of engineers from Virginia Tech, the bot bears a striking resemblance to the jellyfish. Scientists believe this doppelganger could revolutionize the field of oceanographic surveillance, making waterways cleaner and safer.

cryo jellyfish robot

Image via Virginia Tech video

Unlike its predecessor, RoboJelly, Cryo is powered by an advanced rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery. Right now the battery gets three to four hours of swimming time per charge, but researchers are working to change those hours into months. The much smaller RoboJelly took some of its power from ocean currents but was tethered, a major drawback. Cryo is “a launch-and-forget robot”, reports Wired. “There’s no remote controls on the Cyro. Place it into the water, and its roll-pitch-yaw sensor package, pressure sensors and software do the rest.”

Cryo’s 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.

The size and weight of a grown man, 5 foot 7 inches in length and weighing 170 pounds, the Cryo is surprisingly lifelike and quite nimble in the water. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to pick it out of a jellyfish line up, which is why it has so much potential as an ocean sentry.

Both RoboJelly and Cryo are part of a multi-university, nationwide $5 million project funded by U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Office of Naval Research. The goal is to place self-powering, autonomous machines in waters for the purposes of surveillance and monitoring the environment, in addition to other uses such as studying aquatic life, mapping ocean floors, and monitoring ocean currents.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog