To study coral reefs and the creatures that live there, scientists sometimes deploy underwater drones. But drones aren’t perfect spies. Their propellers can rip up reefs and harm living things. Drones also can be noisy, scaring animals away. A new robo-jellyfish might be the answer.
Erik Engeberg is a mechanical engineer at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. His team developed the new gadget. Think of this robot as a quieter, gentler ocean spy. Soft and squishy, it glides silently through the water, so it won’t harm reefs or disturb animals living around them. The robot also carries sensors to collect data.
The device has eight tentacles made of soft silicone rubber. Pumps on the underside of the robot take in seawater and direct it into the tentacles. The water inflates the tentacles, making them stretch out. Then power to the pumps briefly cuts out. The tentacles now relax and water shoots back out of holes on the underside of the device. That rapidly escaping water propels the jellyfish upwards.
The robot also has a hard, cylindrical case on top. This holds the electronics that control the jellyfish and store data. One component allows wireless communication with the jellyfish. That means someone can remotely steer the robot by making different tentacles move at different times. The hard case could hold sensors, too.