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Robotic jellyfish named Cyro could one day work for the Navy [video]

March 28, 2013|By Karen Kaplan

Meet Cyro, the latest robotic jellyfish to emerge from the engineering labs at Virginia Tech.

Cyro measures 5 feet, 7 inches across and weighs in at 170 pounds. Its design was based on the real-life species Cyanea capillata, one of the largest jellyfish in the world. (Cyro is an amalgam of “Cyanea” and “robot.”) When submerged in a pool, the robot flaps its eight arms and swims gracefully. 

“Our goal with this robot is to copy the natural jellyfish,” Alex Villanueva, a grad student at Virginia Tech’s college of engineering, explains in the video above.

Why? Jellyfish are one of the most efficient marine species, able to roam the oceans with comparatively little energy. They also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, offering plenty of designs for engineers to copy and test.

But why make a robotic jellyfish in the first place? The researchers at Virginia Tech – along with colleagues at UCLA, Stanford University, Providence College in Rhode Island and the University of Texas at Dallas – have a $5-million grant from the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Office of Naval Research to develop autonomous robots that can ply the oceans. Robotic jellyfish like Cyro could one day conduct undersea military surveillance. They might also be deployed to monitor the environment or clean up oil spills.

“This robot, we intend to leave it in the ocean for as long as we can,” Villanueva said. “We’re talking, like, weeks and months and even more if we can.”

That means Cyro will have to be energy-efficient. The robot has a rechargeable nickel-metal hydride battery to power the linear actuators that move its arms as well as its electronics (which are a challenge to keep dry).

The mechanical arms move in conjunction with a thick layer of silicone – the “jelly” part of the jellyfish – to propel Cryo through the water.

“We’re dealing with a type of propulsion that’s not commonly studied,” Villanueva says. “It’s not like a boat or a submarine.”

Cyro is the younger sibling of RoboJelly, Villanueva’s first robotic jellyfish. RoboJelly was much smaller (it fits in one hand) and had to be tethered to a power source. More prototypes are on the way.

Return to the Science Now blog.

Follow me on Twitter @LATkarenkaplan

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