Ocean exploration may be assisted by jellyfish in the future. Engineers at California Institute of Technology and Stanford University have been working on creating bionically augmented jellyfish for the past seven years, and they have recently discovered that a prosthetic device will help the invertebrates move through the water even more efficiently, according to a study published by the journal Science Advances.
The 0.8-inch microelectronic device essentially works like a pacemaker. When it is embedded into the jellyfish, it is able to control the frequency of its muscle contractions which it uses to swim by sending electrical impulses.
Jellyfish are already among the most efficient movers in the ocean, travelling at around two centimeters per second. The electrical device will increase their speed by almost three times while only doubling their energy consumption. And since the organisms do not have pain receptors or a central nervous system, the electrical control will not harm them.
Currently, mechanical robots that mimic fish require much higher energy consumption than animals and are therefore tethered to external power supplies. Live animals are also a promising replacement for biomimic robots because their regenerative tissue properties will allow for increased damage tolerance. According to the study, by integrating electronics into live jellyfish, they have constructed a biohybrid robot that is 10 to 1,000 times more efficient than existing swimming robots.
Robots will not be swimming through the ocean tomorrow; that is out of the scope of our existing technology. Scientists are hopeful for the future, however. Jellyfish span all the world’s oceans, from surface to bottom. When 95% of the ocean has yet to be explored, the potential to do so via organisms that are already inhabiting much of it is promising. Now that the scientists have figured out how to control forward motion, the next step is to work on turning, which will allow them to direct the organisms to precise locations. They also will need to work on making the technology hold up to the high pressures of the deep ocean.
You can read the research article in Science Advances here, and watch the video of researches embedding the jellyfish with the devices below.