A Jellyfish-Inspired Underwater Robot Could Clean the Oceans’ Waste


TL;DR Breakdown

  • Jellyfish-Bot can trap waste and collect fragile samples with minimal impact on the surrounding environment.
  • Electrohydraulic actuators power the robot’s movement, creating a silent and contactless waste collection tool.
  • Future improvements aim to make Jellyfish-Bot wireless and enhance its navigation and operational capabilities.

As the world’s oceans continue to suffer from the effects of pollution, a team of roboticists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) in Stuttgart may have come up with a solution. Inspired by jellyfish, they have developed a new underwater robot that could help clean up waste from the ocean floor.

The Jellyfish-Bot is designed to operate almost silently, with artificial muscles that enable it to move in a way that creates a vortex of air underneath its body, allowing it to collect waste without physical contact. With the potential to safely interact with delicate environments such as coral reefs, this innovative robot could prove to be a valuable tool for environmental remediation.

Introducing the Jellyfish-Bot: An Underwater Robot Inspired by Nature

With more than 70% of the earth’s surface covered in oceans, which are unfortunately highly polluted, employing underwater robots to master the cleanup has become a strategy to combat the mounds of waste found in these very sensitive ecosystems.

However, existing prototypes typically use bulky, noisy actuators and limited configurations. The new robot, called Jellyfish-Bot, could become an important tool for environmental remediation. The nearly noise-free prototype can trap objects underneath its body without physical contact, thereby enabling safe interactions in delicate environments such as coral reefs.

The Jellyfish-Bot robot consists of a series of six electrohydraulic actuators that serve as artificial muscles to power the robot. HASELs are artificial muscles that use electricity to create movement. They consist of plastic pouches filled with liquid dielectric and covered partially by electrodes. When a high voltage is applied to an electrode, it becomes positively charged, causing the surrounding water to become negatively charged. This generates negatively charged water that moves the oil inside the pouches back and forth, causing the actuators to flap.

The underwater robot swims gracefully, creating swirls underneath its body through periodic electric currents flowing through the wires, allowing it to circulate the water around it. As a postdoc in the Physical Intelligence Department at MPI-IS and the first author of the publication, Tianlu Wang explains that the robot is capable of collecting nutrients by circulating water around it when a jellyfish swims upwards and can trap objects along its path.

This function efficiently collects waste particles and delicate biological samples, like fish eggs, without harming the environment or aquatic life. The collected litter is transported to the surface for recycling with minimal noise disturbance.

Wang said that the robot has the ability to collect delicate biological samples, like fish eggs, from the seafloor and bring them to the surface. The authors of the study point out that a large percentage of marine litter ends up at the bottom of the ocean, with plastics being the main culprit. They believe it is crucial to create a robot that can pick up and transport litter to the surface and hope that such robots will help in cleaning up the oceans.

The design of the Jellyfish-Bot robot is near-silent, providing a less invasive waste collection tool than other robotic solutions currently available. Electric currents flow through the actuators, powering the robot’s movement by expanding and contracting its ‘muscles.’

Jellyfish-Bot is now equipped with arms that can grasp and hold objects as part of its design. Joo explained that they achieved grasping objects by making four of the arms function as a propeller and the other two as a gripper or by actuating only a subset of the arms to steer the robot in different directions. They also explored how to operate a collective of several robots.

For instance, we took two robots and let them pick up a mask, which is very difficult for a single robot alone. Two robots can also cooperate in carrying heavy loads. However, at this point, our Jellyfish-Bot needs a wire. This is a drawback if we really want to use it one day in the ocean.

Next, the team hopes to further develop the Jellyfish Bot by making it fully autonomous so that it can operate without a wire. They also plan to increase their size and durability to better withstand ocean currents. Additionally, the team hopes to explore potential applications for the robot beyond waste collection, such as monitoring and studying marine life.

The development of the Jellyfish- Bot represents an important step forward in the use of robotics for environmental remediation. By providing a less invasive and nearly noise-free waste collection tool, the robot could play a crucial role in cleaning up our oceans and preserving delicate ecosystems.

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Glory Kaburu

Glory is an extremely knowledgeable journalist proficient with AI tools and research. She is passionate about AI and has authored several articles on the subject. She keeps herself abreast of the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning and writes about them regularly.

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