Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers have unveiled a large autonomous robotic jellyfish as part of a U.S. Navy-funded project. The prototype robot, nicknamed Cyro, is a larger model of a robotic jellyfish (the RoboJelly) developed by the same team – headed by Shashank Priya, professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.
“A larger vehicle will allow for more payload, longer duration and longer range of operation,” said Alex Villanueva of St-Jacques, New Brunswick, and a doctoral student in mechanical engineering working under Priya. “Biological and engineering results show that larger vehicles have a lower cost of transport, which is a metric used to determine how much energy is spent for traveling.”
Both robots are part of a multi-university, $5 million project funded by U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Office of Naval Research. The goal is to place self-powering machines in waters for the purposes of surveillance, studying aquatic life, mapping ocean floors and monitoring ocean currents.
“Cyro showed its ability to swim autonomously while maintaining a similar physical appearance and kinematics as the natural species,” Priya said, adding that the robot is simultaneously able to collect, store, analyze, and communicate sensory data.
Since Cyro will need to operate on its own for months at a time, the robot is powered by a rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery. Its skin is comprised of a thick layer of silicone, attached to an inverted bowl-shaped device containing the robot’s electronics. For movement, its mechanical arms are powered by DC motors and attached to its support structure. The arms, in conjunction with an artificial mesoglea — the fish’s jelly-like body — create the robot’s hydrodynamic movement.
The researchers say Cyro is still in the prototype stage and years away from deployment. However, a new prototype model already is under construction at Virginia Tech’s Durham Hall, where Priya’s Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems is based.