Hat-wearing cyborg jellyfish could one day explore the ocean depths


To better understand the overall health of the ocean, researchers hope to use some of the simplest organisms in evolution as tools to assess aquatic ecosystems. All you need is $20 worth of materials, a 3D printer, and a jellyfish hat.

Jellyfish first began roaming Earth’s ancient oceans at least 500 million years ago, making them some of the oldest living organisms on Earth. But through all that time, their biology has remained fairly consistent: a bell-shaped, brainless head with a mass of tentacles attached to it, all of which are made up of about 95 percent water. Unfortunately, their habitats cannot maintain the same steady state as humans continually impact the environment.

Reaching the deepest parts of the ocean is notoriously dangerous, technically difficult, and expensive for humans, but jellyfish do it all the time. Knowing this, a Caltech research team led by aeronautics and mechanical engineering professor John Dabiri first created a jellyfish-inspired robot to explore the abyss. Although the bot’s natural materials are the most energy-efficient swimmers on the planet, the mechanical imitations were never a perfect match for the real thing. Dabiri and his colleagues soon realized another option: applying robotics to actual jellyfish.

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