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Researchers Create Chemically Powered Robotic Jellyfish

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the robot-sea-monsters dept.

The Military 36

pigrabbitbear writes with an excerpt from an article at Motherboard: "Earlier last week we heard about the strange blob-bot, an amoeba-mimicking, pulsating, little horror of a robot. But that's nothing in the face of news that engineers at Virginia Tech have built a robotic jellyfish. As if the threat of the oceans being taken over by deadly stinging jelly cyborgs isn't scary enough, there's this: the researchers claim that, because their Robojelly is powered by a hydrogen-based catalytic reaction, rather than electricity, it could 'theoretically' power itself indefinitely. When you consider our best options for powering underwater craft are currently batteries, nuclear reactors, or tethers to the surface, a chemically-powered propulsion system is groundbreaking (and, well, a bit nerve-wracking)." The full paper is available for free (at least for 30 days; registration required).

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Frickin' lasers (2, Funny)

wcrowe (94389) | about 2 years ago | (#39428435)

Now, if we could just attach frickin' lasers to them ...

Re:Frickin' lasers (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39428657)

Really? This is still +5-in-the-first-few-minutes funny?

Re:Frickin' lasers (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39428799)

Evidently no, now it's just +2 funny, or at least in this case it is, probably because there's no shark involved, so the reference doesn't really work. But I wouldn't really anticipate the reference going away any time soon, considering it is older than Slashdot itself. Same goes for Monty Python, The Simpsons, Star Wars and a shitload of others. Some references are topical, others are timeless. If a reference is still being used after 10 years, it's probably the latter.

Re:Frickin' lasers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39437333)

It's not so much a "timeless reference" as a reminder that everyone thinks they have a sense of humor, even when all they do is repeat old jokes ad nauseum.

At last! Just what I've been waiting for. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39428493)

So it has come to this.

Re:At last! Just what I've been waiting for. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39429017)

I fully submit to our robotic jellyfish overlords

Read the article (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 2 years ago | (#39428587)

It's cool but it's too full of theoretical bits to be truly useful just yet. The one in the video? Still actually powered by electricity.

Re:Read the article (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#39429045)

And you base that statement on.. what? Its going to use electricity to create force, but it's getting it from hydrogen. What it isn't doing is collecting the H by itself, it's being pumped in.

Re:Read the article (3, Informative)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 years ago | (#39430885)

It uses heat and shape memory alloy to create force. The way shape memory alloy works is that it has one shape when hot and another when cold. The robot has two ways to create this heat; electricity or catalytic action of a platinum catalyst.
It is not even clear if the electricity is from a tether or batteries.

The issues with this technology are as follows;
1. Currently the only moving version runs on electricity to create the heat.
    "A hydrogen-powered version works underwater, but has to be held with a clamp as it isn’t producing enough power to keep itself from sinking."
2. The fuel powered version uses hydrogen and oxygen externally supplied and can not even support it's own weight.
  "Disappointingly, the authors mention that the Robojelly in the above video is still electrically powered, as the chemical system needs refinement for full power."
3. The hydrogen version has no steering capability.
    "“We are now researching new ways to deliver the fuel into each segment so that each one can be controlled individually. This should allow the robot to be controlled and moved in different directions.”
4. The capability to "gather oxygen and hydrogen its surroundings" has not even been looked into.
5. The speed is extremely slow compared with ocean currents. It is little more than a drifter with some depth control.
6. It is extremely weak. It's payload capacity is almost zero. It is not all that useful when it can not carry sensors and communication gear.

Specifically, here are the hurdles this technology has to overcome to be viable:
1. Shape memory alloy; there is a physical limit to how fast shape memory alloy changes shape. It is not instantaneous. There is a limit to the size of the wire as the heat has to penetrate through the shape alloy wire for full change to occur and then that heat has to be dissipated to change shape back.
2. Catalytic heat delivery; How much heat can be delivered in such a cold environment. The system works against itself. It needs cold water to change the shape of the memory alloy wire but not so cold so that the heat generation is overcome. How big a wire can this catalyst power?
3. The system to "gather hydrogen and oxygen from its surroundings" has not even been looked into. It may never work as no research has been done on it. At this point is is just an idea. It's like designing a tethered robot and saying "with a fusion motor this robot could run indefinitely".

I love the final sentence from the abstract; "Fuel-powered bell deformation of 13.5% was found to be comparable to that of electrically powered (29%) and natural jellyfish (42%)." The fact that something is comparable does not mean that it compares well. The bell deformation of the fuel-powered version is 32% of that of jellyfish. Is the sufficient to do anything useful?

Yet another premature article about the beginnings of an interesting technology that has yet to overcome a number of huge hurdles. These articles downplay the hurdles to make themselves look more interesting. The researchers have done the easy part but the hard parts may be insurmountable. Considering that the hurdles are so large this technology may never be viable.

Obligatory... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39428625)

I for one welcome our new, chemically powered robotic jellyfish overlords!

Re:Obligatory... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39433717)

Having lived at the beach, I, for one, do NOT welcome our (OW!) new (OW!), chemically powered (OWWW!), robotic jellyfish (OWWWW!) overlords (AAARRRRRGGGGGHH.............)

I, for one (4, Insightful)

exploder (196936) | about 2 years ago | (#39428673)

am getting tired of the "cyborg apocalypse" meme accompanying every story about a robot or quadcopter. They don't reproduce, so the comment about them taking over the ocean is just stupid.

Re:I, for one (2)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#39428935)

OTOH a robotic apocalypse is far more likely then a zombie one.

Actually, we will have a robotic apocalypse, but it will be a financial one.

And yes, automation software in included as robot.

Re:I, for one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39429231)

Although they don't reproduce, but they don't die easily either, so if we keep throwing these into the ocean, one day they will be everywhere!

Re:I, for one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39429445)

Have you put a couple of them in a tank together and seen what happens? No? Then you're making assumptions, rather than using science. For instance, I kept my two iPads together in a box with a water bowl, wood shavings, and fresh lettuce daily, and Saturday I woke up with a third iPad. It was convenient timing, too, as I develop software for the iPad and needed a new one for testing. I've yet to hear any news reports about iPad breeding, which is almost certainly due to the lack of scientific curiosity by people like you making others too embarrassed to try it.

Re:I, for one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39429473)

Oh yeah? Well what if they just make one really really fucking huge one?

propel itself "indefinitely"? (1)

spads (1095039) | about 2 years ago | (#39429367)

So, where is it supposed to get all its hydrogen gas UNDER WATER, hmmm?

Though, honestly, that shape-shifting sandwich stuff does sound pretty cool!

Re:propel itself "indefinitely"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39430149)

What is water made out of? H2O.. What does that stand for? 2 parts Hydrogen, 1 part Oxygen.

You can seperate the Hydrogen and Oxygen using electrolysis... What does that leave you with? Hydrogen gas, maybe?

Re:propel itself "indefinitely"? (1)

spads (1095039) | about 2 years ago | (#39431337)

Yeah, and perhaps that might take some energy? Though there is the potential to do this with sunlight. When that happens, it will impact everywhere.

Re:propel itself "indefinitely"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39440051)

this is awesome!! why didnt i think of this!

So, all we need is a battery pack (or maybe a nuclear reactor?) to power some electrolysis, and they, voila, we can power the magic squid. indefinitly. (well, until the electricity runns out)

did i miss something?

[jack]You sould like a pussy[/jack] (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39429453)

... little horror of a robot ... the threat of the oceans being taken over by deadly stinging jelly cyborgs isn't scary enough ... and, well, a bit nerve-wracking.

FFS, dude, man up a bit.

Perpetual motion machine invented... (1)

dtjohnson (102237) | about 2 years ago | (#39430221)

..."it could 'theoretically' power itself indefinitely"
The power-itself-indefinitely discovery is way more important than the 'swimming jellyfish' invention. The former would be an astounding change in our understanding of physics...while the latter is mere technology (important but not going to reorder the universe or anything). What the article is claiming is invented here is a method to separate hydrogen gas from the ocean using less energy to accomplish the capture than what they obtain in the captured hydrogen. If this is confirmed, we will no longer have to mess around drilling for oil. Instead, we'll just process seawater and capture hydrogen fuel. We can all use hydrogen-fueled cars, hydrogen-fueled power plants, and hydrogen-fueled snowmobiles. This discovery solves multiple crises including global warming, the global energy shortage, mideast war, petroleum shortages, the gas price at the pump, air pollution, and Obama's re-election. Who woulda thunk?

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