Researchers have crafted a robot jellyfish that's powered by hydrogen, but that may one day explore the ocean under its own steam, the BBC reports.
Devised by smart cookies at Virginia Tech and the University of Texas at Dallas, the 'robojelly' project mimics the movement of the ocean's most terrifying, wobbly denizen using platinum-coated carbon nanotubes.
The robot moves through water by squeezing water out of its body, just like a real jellyfish. Its movement is powered by shape memory alloys, which 'remember' their original form. That alloy is wrapped in carbon nanotubes that are coated with platinum.
Oxygen and hydrogen in the water react with the robojelly's platinum coating to give off heat, which is conducted to the shape memory alloys, causing them to flex, propelling the robot through the water. Check out a video of the oddly adorable blobby bot 'swimming' below.
Jellyfish are a prime choice for modelling robots on because their mechanism for movement is dead simple, and the "structure is very simple to mimic" lead author Yonas Tadesse says, as reported in Discovery News. Tadesse further adds, "There are fewer predators for jellyfish." That means your expensive robot is less likely to end up inside the belly of a shark.
Discovery News reports that if robojelly could gather hydrogen and oxygen from its surroundings then it could power itself, squooshing its way merrily through the waves and doubtless getting entangled in all sorts of madcap adventures. Also lobster traps.
There are plans to examine how to control individual segments of the robot, which would let it move in different directions. The research, published in Smart Materials and Structures, was sponsored by the US Office of Naval Research, and could be used for ocean monitoring -- for example tracking an oil spill -- or military surveillance.
Personally I'd like to see several floating in a tank in our offices. How would you feel if you bumped into robojelly on your next trip to the beach? Tell me in the comments, or on our Facebook wall.