Robotic jellyfish could one day patrol oceans, clean oil spills, and detect pollutants

April 2, 2013


Robojelly (credit: Virginia Tech)

Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers are working on a multi-university, nationwide project for the U.S. Navy that one day will put life-like autonomous robot jellyfish in waters around the world.

Uses of the robot jellyfish could include conducting military surveillance, cleaning oil spills, and monitoring the environment.

The main focus of the program is to understand the fundamentals of propulsion mechanisms utilized by nature, said Shashank Priya, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering at Virginia Tech, and lead researcher on the project.

Small robotic jellyfish are tested for movement and energy self-creation and usage in a 600-gallon tank. A synthetic rubbery skin mimics the sleek jellyfish skin and is placed over a bowl-shaped device covered in electronics. When moving, they look weirdly alive.

“Jellyfish are attractive candidates to mimic because of their ability to consume little energy owing to a lower metabolic rate than other marine species, survivability in varying water conditions, and possession of adequate shape for carrying a payload,” Priya said.

Jellyfish display a wide variety of shapes and colors, and are able to move on their own vertically, but depend upon ocean currents for horizontal movement. With no central nervous system, jellyfish instead use a diffused nerve net to control movement and can complete complex functions.

The U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Office of Naval Research. Virginia Tech, is teaming with four U.S. universities on the multi-year, $5 million project: