A team of Stanford and Caltech scientists attached low-power microelectronics to the undersides of jellyfish to create "biohybrid robots" that swim three times as fast as normal ones.
The idea is to one day allow "cyborg jellyfish," equipped with sensors, to explore the vast depths of our planet's oceans — rather than relying on unwieldy and inefficient submarines, Scientific American reports.
In a trial, the scientists were capable of using electrical jolts from microelectronic controllers to make jellyfish swim not only faster but also more efficiently, according to a paper published in Science Advances today.
"We've shown that they're capable of moving much faster than they normally do, without an undue cost on their metabolism," said co-author and Stanford bioengineering PhD candidate Nicole Xu, in a statement.
"This reveals that jellyfish possess an untapped ability for faster, more efficient swimming," Xu added. "They just don't usually have a reason to do so."
Thanks to the simplicity of the design, the electronics use orders of magnitude less external power per mass than other aquatic robots, according to the paper.
The jellyfish cyborgs could revolutionize the way we explore the mysteries of the planet's oceans. To do that, the researchers are already looking to take their project a step further by adding controls, using only a few modifications to the microelectronics.
"If we can find a way to direct these jellyfish and also equip them with sensors to track things like ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, and so on, we could create a truly global ocean network where each of the jellyfish robots costs a few dollars to instrument and feeds themselves energy from prey already in the ocean," said lead author and Caltech mechanical engineer John Dabiri.
READ MORE: Cyborg Jellyfish Could One Day Explore the Ocean [Scientific American]
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