A giant, slimy, tentacled robot modeled after one of the world’s largest jellyfish could be a precursor to self-powered, autonomous robots that monitor the seas, map the seafloor and even reveal secrets of marine life, engineers say.
Dubbed Cyro, the newly unveiled robotic jellyfish is a scaled-up version of another mechanical swimmer, this one the size of a human hand, called RoboJelly that was developed by the same team of researchers at Virginia Tech College of Engineering.
At 5-foot-7 (1.7 meters) and weighing 170 pounds (77 kilograms), Cyro is the jelly equivalent of an average human guy.
Jellyfish make great models for self-powered and autonomous bots partly because of their relatively low metabolic rate, meaning they can move through the sea on little energy. They also come in various sizes and inhabit a range of aquatic habitats from shallow coastal areas to the deep-sea, meaning engineers have plenty to work with when looking for a mimic for particular uses.
Cyro is modeled after Cyanea capillata, or the lion’s mane jellyfish, whose bell stretches about 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 m) across, with some observations suggesting the bell can reach 9 feet (2.7 m) across. The robot mimic also has a central “bell,” this one holding the creature’s electronic guts, with a thick layer of squishy silicone meant to mimic jellyfish skin covering the entire creature, Alex Villanueva, a mechanical engineering graduate student at Virginia Tech
The robot’s arms, which are powered and controlled by the central electronics, move radially from an outward position in toward the center. That radial “musculature” triggers the pulsing motions of the artificial mesoglea, or the gelatinous substance that makes up the jellyfish’s skin.
Cyro is still in the prototype stages, and so years away from real deployment in the seas, the researchers said. The team, which also includes graduate student Tyler Michael, is working on horizontal movements, as Cyro currently can move only in the up-down direction