Scientists have ‘puppeteered’ the movements of a jellyfish and made it even faster than the real thing.
Taking artificial control with a microelectronic implant, researchers have increased the natural swimming speed of a live moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) by nearly threefold.
What’s more, they achieved this with only a little bit of external power and twice the amount of metabolic effort from the animal.
“Thus,” the authors conclude, “this biohybrid robot uses 10 to 1,000 times less external power per mass than other aquatic robots reported in literature.”
Jellyfish are known to be incredibly efficient swimmers, much more so than any machine we humans have created, so their low cost of transport makes them an ideal “natural scaffold”.
While it’s true certain underwater vehicles can travel much faster than a jellyfish, so far, robots that try and mimic jellyfish behaviour require orders of magnitude more energy and are usually tethered to an external power supply.
The real things, on the other hand, are slow and steady, unencumbered explorers, capable of self-healing. If we can properly control them, some think they could be an intriguing new way to expand ocean monitoring.
“Because jellyfish are naturally found in a wide range of salinities, temperatures, oxygen concentrations, and depths (including 3,700 m [12,100 feet] or deeper in the Mariana Trench),” the authors of the new study propose, “these biohybrid robots also have the potential to be deployed throughout the world’s oceans.”