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Geek.com, March 29, 2013

Autonomous robot jellyfish being developed for military surveillance
By Matthew Humphries 

Talk about military surveillance and images of unmanned drones come to mind. But typically they are air and ground based units. The US Navy wants to get in on the action, though, and has tasked Virginia Tech College of Engineering with developing an autonomous robotic jellyfish.

The project has been ongoing since last year thanks to a 5-year grant from the Office of Naval Research. A lab in Virginia Tech’s Durham Hall has been outfitted with a tank containing 600 gallons of water that forms the hub of the research. The task is to figure out how a jellyfish functions, and then apply it to a robotic version that could be launched and left to function in the ocean for anything from a few weeks to months and even years.

The first version of this robotic jellyfish was unveiled last year at the lab. It was called Robojelly and was roughly the diameter of a man’s hand. Several months later and a second version has been created. This time the robot is called Cryo, measures 5 foot 7 inches in length, and weighs 170 pounds.

Cryo consists of a central core of components in a waterproof shell connected to eight moving arms. Draped over this is a large and soft piece of white silicone, which comes into contact with each of the arms and remains flexible. Combined, the arms and silicone act as a propulsion system mimicking how real jellyfish move around.

There’s still a lot of work to do on the design, though. Allowing the jellyfish to remain autonomous means the 4 hours it currently gets from an on-board nickel metal hydride battery needs to be improved drastically. But the research team still has 3 years of grant money with which to solve that problem, perfect propulsion, and make this a truly autonomous unit. Uses aren’t just limited to surveillance, either. The jellyfish could be loaded up with sensors to become an ocean research device, or help with clean up operations after an oil spill.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton