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Robotic jellyfish gets more realistic

A robot designed to look and swim like a jellyfish has gotten even more realistic, according to a researcher working on the motion component of the machine. 

The robot, known as Robojelly, was developed for the Office of Naval Research in 2009 to spy on ships and submarines, detect chemical spills, and monitor the whereabouts of migrating fish.


They did this by putting little wires, called bio-inspired shape memory alloy composites, that, when heated, contract just as a muscle does.  

The original Robojelly, however, didn't swim as gracefully as the jellyfish it was built to mimic, according to Alex Villanueva, a graduate student at Virginia Tech.

"It was just pulsing and staying in place, it wasn't really going anywhere," he told me. 

He improved the robot's swimming prowess by studying how jellyfish swim and then re-engineered the robotic propulsion mechanism to more realistically mimic the jellies.

Natural jellyfish generate thrust by deforming and contracting the bell section of their bodies. The lower, or lagging section of the bell, deforms slightly later than the rest of the bell.

Villanueva added this so-called flexible margin to the Robojelly.

"As soon as we put it on, the robot started swimming really well, so well that the biologists were like, 'man, this looks really close to the natural fish,'" he said.

Villanueva presented the results at the 2011 meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics Nov. 22 in Boston, Mass.

He is now working on improving the hydrodynamics of the robot so that it swims as proficiently and energy efficiently as the natural fish.

In addition, he is working on a 5-foot diameter jellyfish modeled after the lion's mane jellyfish. Results on that robot are forthcoming, but he says it has passed preliminary swimming tests. 

Great. As if real giant jellyfish weren't scary enough, it now appears we have to contend with look-like giant robotic jellyfish.

More on underwater robots:

 


John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.

 

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