Virginia Tech and the University of Texas at Dallas have claimed their place as the leading purveyor of robot-based nautical doom with robojelly, a robot that simulates the look and the move of a cnidarian.
Anyone who has seen jellies knows that they move with a repetitive contraction of their bells, or their transparent outer shells. This movement requires two motions: a contraction and a snap back to the original position. For this carbon nanotubule jellyfish, the engineers used a commercially available, shape memory, titanium-and-nickel alloy to mimic the snap back.
The contraction was harder to engineer. The Robojelly needed muscles, so researchers used platinum-covered carbon nanotubes to cover the shape memory sheets. When hydrogen and oxygen gases in the water made contact with the platinum — which is in the form of black powder — they create a reaction that gives off heat. This causes the nickel-titanium alloy to contract. And since hydrogen and oxygen are in seawater, these jellies could roam the oceans indefinitely, with possible future tinkering.
The deformation of the bell, powered by this reaction, was found to be a modest 13.5%. An electro-robojelly can manage 29% and a biological one can get an impressive 42%, but neither of the latter can power themselves until judgment day.
So, I, for one, welcome our new robojelly overlords. I know some of you readers may be working on ways to contract each of the segments of your bell separately, thus allowing you to move in different directions, but someday you will. And on that day, remember I welcomed you first.