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Jellyfish robots to be used to monitor fragile coral reefs

Robotic jellyfish with silicon rubber tentacles could be employed to watch over endangered coral reefs in the world’s oceans.

A soft robot jellyfish that can swim through openings narrower than its body could be used to monitor delicate environments in the ocean, scientists have said.

The “jellybots” are based on the shape of the moon jellyfish and are capable of squeezing through holes cut in plexiglass plates.

Scientists at Jellyfish Robots hope they could be sent to monitor fragile coral reefs, without risking collision and damage and could act as “guardians of the oceans”.

The robots are driven by hydraulic tentacles using a system driven by two impeller pumps. Impeller pumps use centrifugal force to accelerate fluid outwards.

Water from the surrounding environment is used to inflate the jellybot’s silicon rubber tentacles to produce a swimming stroke. When the pumps are not powered, the tentacles’ natural flexibility pushes the water back out.

Dr Erik Engeberg, from Florida Atlantic University, said: “Studying and monitoring fragile environments, such as coral reefs, has always been challenging for marine researchers.

“Soft robots have great potential to help with this.”

“Soft robots based on fish and other marine animals have gained popularity in the research community in the last few years. Jellyfish are excellent candidates because they are very efficient swimmers.”

Five jellybots with varying levels of hardness were produced for the tests using 3D printing techniques.

“We found the robots were able to swim through openings narrower than the nominal diameter of the robot,” said Dr Engeberg.

Future robots will have navigational programming and environmental sensors to help them find gaps and decide if they can swim through them and monitor water conditions.

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