October 23, 2013
For my high school class’s senior trip, we went down to South Padre Island, Texas. For many of my friends, this was their first time seeing the sea given that we were from Central Illinois. When we arrived, it was early morning, and despite having just partaken in a 26+ hour bus ride, we all headed for the beach rather than our hotel rooms. What we found waiting for us were hundreds and hundreds of jellyfish all washed up on the beach. This is a common occurrence, as it turns out, and local life guards and hotel staff told us that there was nothing to worry about, but to watch out for the blue ones, as their venom packed a nasty sting – not deadly, just painful. Well, there were lots and lots of white ones, which were harmless, and only a few blues, and given that a friend of mine had played a rather unkind trick on me during the trip, it was time to pay him back in kind. He had not listened to the hotel staff, and thus came to me asking which ones were safe. Scaring him away from the beach for the better part of a day, I told him the white ones were the dangerous ones. Cruel, I know, but also hilarious.
Jellyfish are fascinating creatures. I have adored them ever since my trip to South Padre. Seeming so simple, yet so alien in appearance, they are said to be some of the most efficient creatures in the ocean in terms of how much energy they have to use while moving. Their movement is based on the displacement of water, but pushing the water away from themselves using their bell-shape, the water than rushes to refill the displacement and pushes them forward: minimal effort on their part for maximum possible movement. Recently, researchers at the Virginia Tech College of Engineering have created robotic jellyfish. This lower cost of energy in order to move has made the jellyfish a very feasible candidate for copy when it comes to creating robotic replicas that use the same modes of transport as the original. Researchers have used computer models, the same as is used to create computer generated likenesses of actors for many films that rely on special effects, to lock down the intricacies of the way a jellyfish moves so that they can recreate it in robotic form. This is a difficult task, considering that jellyfish lack the joints that such techniques usually focus on to capture movement.
Want to check out robojelly in action?
Currently, the team has developed a hand-sized robojelly and they are working on a larger model (though they are having difficulties testing it due to its size), as well as vehicles that use the same design, allowing for incredible fuel conservation and, thus, extended use out in the open water.
Image Credit: Thinkstock