Last year, a team of researchers from the Virginia Tech College of Engineering unveiled RoboJelly – a robotic jellyfish in development since 2009, that’s about the size of a man’s hand. While the squishy little robot is certainly an impressive feat of engineering, the same team has now created a bigger, better jellybot, known as Cyro.

The lion’s mane jellyfish served as the inspiration for the new robot – the monicker “Cyro” comes from that animal’s Latin name, cyanea capillata.

The neutrally-buoyant robot is five feet, seven inches (1.7 meters) wide, and weighs 170 pounds (77 kg). Its rigid inner support structure contains its electronic components, including its rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery. Attached to that structure are eight mechanical arms, each powered by its own direct current electric motor. Working with the surrounding exterior silicone body, the movements of those arms are able to successfully reproduce the swimming motion of the real jellyfish.

Cyro's inner structure, placed on top of a plastic crate

Cyro has been made bigger than RoboJelly not because it’s more impressive, but because it’s more practical. When used to autonomously monitor the marine environment, perform surveillance, map the ocean floor or perform other duties, a bigger robot could hold a larger payload of sensors and processors, go farther, and stay at sea longer – possibly weeks or even months at a time

The differences between the two robots don’t end with their size. While RoboJelly receives its power via a tether, Cyro is completely free-roaming. RoboJelly does incorporate an experimental system in which it’s able to power itself using hydrogen and oxygen extracted from the surrounding water, although there’s reportedly much more work to be done before that technology could be practically integrated into a sea-going robot.

Even Cyro itself isn’t likely to be heading off on any solo ocean voyages any time soon. In fact, a successor is already in the works. It’s hoped that the next robot will consume less power, swim more effectively, and generally be more similar to a real jellyfish. Some of the reasons that jellyfish were chosen as the “template” for the robots include the facts that the animals use very little energy when swimming, they exist in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they function in a wide range of marine and freshwater environments.

Both Cyro and RoboJelly are part of an ongoing project funded by the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Office of Naval Research, that also involves research being conducted at Providence College in Rhode Island, the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Stanford University. The Virginia Tech team is headed by Prof. Shashank Priya.

Cyro can be seen in action in the video below.

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