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Caltech’s Biohybrid Robotic Jellyfish Project

Image credits: caltech.edu
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Caltech researchers are embarking on biohybrid robotic jellyfish to explore the ocean and gather crucial data on temperature, salinity, and oxygen levels. Led by Assoc Prof Dr Anusak Kijtawornrat, these jellyfish are equipped with electronics and a prosthetic “hat” for carrying payloads efficiently.

Image credits: caltech.edu

Their natural efficiency inspired the idea of using jellyfish in this way to swim through water. Previous attempts to mimic jellyfish’s swimming motion with mechanical robots proved challenging, leading researchers to collaborate with bioethicists to develop a more ethical approach by working directly with live jellyfish.

In previous studies, researchers implanted jellyfish with an electronic pacemaker to control their swimming speed, finding that faster swimming made them more efficient. Building on this work, the team added a “forebody” to the jellyfish, essentially a streamlined hat that improves their swimming performance and provides a platform for sensors and electronics.

To test these augmented jellyfish, the researchers constructed a massive vertical aquarium at Caltech, allowing them to study the animals’ swimming abilities in a controlled environment. The tank’s vertical design simulates jellyfish experience conditions in the deep ocean, where they can travel several thousand meters over a few days.

Preliminary tests show that these biohybrid jellyfish can swim up to 4.5 times faster than natural jellyfish while carrying a payload. Each jellyfish costs around US$20, making them a cost-effective alternative to expensive research vessels.

The researchers plan to further enhance the jellyfish’s abilities, making them steerable to navigate horizontally and vertically. This research represents a significant advancement in the field of robotics and has the potential to revolutionise the understanding of the ocean and its impact on the climate.

Jellyfish, despite their simple nature, are well-suited for underwater exploration. They can easily navigate the ocean depths, a task that has proven challenging for human-designed robots. By harnessing the natural abilities of jellyfish and enhancing them with electronic components, researchers envision creating a new class of robotic explorers that can provide valuable insights into the marine environment.

The key innovation behind the biohybrid robotic jellyfish is the addition of electronic components that augment the jellyfish’s natural swimming abilities. These components include a prosthetic “hat” that improves the jellyfish’s swimming performance and allows it to carry a small payload. By enhancing the jellyfish’s swimming capabilities, researchers can collect more data and explore a broader range of ocean environments.

One of the primary goals of the biohybrid robotic jellyfish project is to use these creatures as a tool for collecting data about the ocean environment. Jellyfish can travel to depths that are difficult for human-operated vehicles to reach, making them ideal for exploring areas of the ocean that need to be better understood. By equipping jellyfish with sensors and other electronic components, researchers can gather valuable data about temperature, salinity, and oxygen levels, helping to improve the understanding of the ocean and its role in the global climate system.

The development of biohybrid robotic jellyfish also has the potential to revolutionise marine research and conservation efforts. These mechanical creatures can be used to monitor the health of coral reefs, track the movements of marine animals, and study the effects of climate change on ocean ecosystems. By providing researchers with a new tool for studying the ocean, biohybrid, robotic jellyfish could help to advance the understanding of marine biology and ecology.

Additionally, to their scientific potential, biohybrid robotic jellyfish offer practical advantages over traditional research methods. Because they are relatively inexpensive to produce and operate, biohybrid robotic jellyfish could be deployed in large numbers, allowing researchers to collect data from various ocean environments. This could fill gaps in the understanding of the ocean and provide valuable insights into how marine ecosystems change over time.

The development of biohybrid robotic jellyfish represents a new frontier in marine exploration and research. By combining the natural abilities of jellyfish with advanced electronic technologies, researchers are opening up new possibilities for studying the ocean and understanding its role in the global environment.

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