Undersea Intelligence

Robotic jellyfish just like the real thing, but without the sting

AquaJellies are an experiment to create autonomous robots that can work alone or cooperatively. AP Photo; Kai-Uwe Knoth

Swimming around in their tank, these autonomous robotic jellyfish move alone or in a swarm and communicate with their brethren to avoid underwater collisions. Developed by German industrial-automation company Festo as an attention-grabbing experiment in cooperative robotics, each AquaJelly uses eight bendable “tentacles” to propel itself forward.

But the AquaJelly does more than swim around and look pretty. Each is coated with conductive metal paint that draws the robot to a nearby charging station. It also has LED illumination, integrated pressure, light and radio sensors, and 11 infrared light-emitting diodes used for jelly-to-jelly communication. Above water, the robots use a short-range radio system to signal to one another that a charging station is occupied.

Markus Fischer, the head of corporate design at Festo, hopes the AquaJelly will lead to a robotic workforce that can adapt to complicated tasks. Whereas today’s robot assembly lines can produce only a single product, “there is a possibility that [someday] several autonomous robots will work together and produce personalized products.”