An underwater robot created by a research team at the University of Texas has been modeled after a jellyfish, and will be used in rescue efforts and surveillance.
Nicknamed Robojelly, the droid is part of a project that has been in the works for a long time. The robot borrows from its real-life counterpart, which has the most incredible swimming and propulsion systems of any sea creature in the world.
After a recent breakthrough, the robot has a unique way of powering itself while underwater; utilizing platinum-coated carbon nanotubes, it generates fuel from the vast number of hydrogen molecules in the water around it. The continuous motion of the machine's artificial muscles allows it to extract that fuel while it swims.
Like a natural jellyfish, the robotic duplicate sucks water into its body area, then expels it to create propulsion. As this happens, the heat used to perform this task creates usable energy. Since, in theory, Robojelly runs on its own fuel, this essentially allows it to run tirelessly for an indefinite period.
The process produces new waste - only water vapor, researchers say, making it not only energy-efficient, but environmentally friendly as well.
Alex Villanueva, who conducts research on jellyfish robotics, sees groups of these machines in the future working together and forming a network. Though Robojelly is an initial prototype, the goal Villanueva and his fellow researchers hope to achieve is the creation of an unmanned underwater vehicle that behaves and operates in the same way.
Though it certainly won't be ready for use outside of scientific research for some time, it presents an interesting idea in regard to renewable energy.
According to CNet, the technology extends beyond the University of Texas; researchers at Virginia Tech and a few other schools have been developing the device as well. For all universities, the project is being funded by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research.
Photo: The robotic jellyfish is modeled after its natural counterpart. Dante Alighieri/Wikipedia