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Robotic jellyfish could conduct underwater surveillance for the Navy

The Los Angeles Times reports that researchers from Virginia Tech University and their colleagues have been given a $5-million grant from the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Office of Naval Research to create robotic jellyfish that could one day patrol the oceans.

Researchers recently unveiled an autonomous robotic jellyfish that is a bigger version of a robotic jellyfish the same team developed in 2012. Cyro is 5 foot 7 inches in length and weighs 170 pounds. The first robotic jellyfish, nicknamed RoboJelly, was approximately the size of a man’s hand.

According to Alex Villanueva, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, a “larger vehicle will allow for more payload, longer duration and longer range of operation.”

Both Cyro and RoboJelly are part of the $5-million project funding by the U.S. Navy. The Navy hopes to one day use autonomous robots like Cyro and RoboJelly to conduct military surveillance in the oceans. The robots could also be used to study marine life, map ocean floors and monitor ocean currents.

Researchers have focused in on jellyfish because of their ability to consume very little energy due to a lower metabolic rate than other marine species. Jellyfish come in a number of sizes, shapes and colors, which allows the researchers to develop several different prototype robots. They also inhabit shallow and deep waters and can live in a wide range of temperatures in both fresh and salt waters.

According to a news release from Virginia Tech, Cyro mimics the jellyfish Cyanea capillata. The robot is in the prototype stage and is still several years away from being able to be used in the ocean. However, a new prototype model is currently being constructed at the university’s Durham Hall.

According to Villanueva, researchers want to “reduce power consumption and improve swimming performance.” Researchers also hope to better model the morphology of the natural jellyfish. Villanueva thinks that the $5-million project will eventually help researchers determine how the propulsion mechanism of jellyfish scales with size.


Shashank Priya, a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech and project leader, says that Cyro is powered by a rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery, whereas RoboJelly was tethered.

Regardless of the power source, the robotic jellyfish have to operate on their own for months at a time in the ocean.

“Cyro showed its ability to swim autonomously while maintaining a similar physical appearance and kinematics as the natural species,” Priya says.

Is the development of robotic jellyfish spies a good use of the Navy’s money? Share your thoughts in the comments section.