A prosthesis to make jellyfish swim faster: that’s the idea that came from a group of engineers at Caltech and Stanford University. The researchers have made a small prosthesis that allows the jellyfish themselves to be more efficient in swimming and all this without creating any kind of stress to the animals, according to the scientists themselves.
This 2 cm large prosthesis makes use of small electrical impulses to regulate the pulsating movement that these animals naturally perform to push themselves forward. They swing their tentacles and this gives them the push to move forward or even to jump on prey. With this microelectronic controller, the animals are able to pulsate three times faster than normal and this causes an acceleration of movement and allows them a speed of motion of approximately 4-6 cm/s.
They also consume half the energy they would consume if they went at this speed without the controller. As mentioned above, the animals do not suffer any side effects, which has been carefully evaluated by the researchers themselves over many hours of observation. They couldn’t assess their pain because they don’t have a brain or receptors but they paid attention to a phenomenon that happens in the jellyfish body when they are stressed: they secrete mucus and this was not observed by researchers.
However, such an effort is not an end in itself or in any case only aimed at making some jellyfish more efficient in its movement: these animals, in fact, could be exploited to explore and perform ocean surveys.
“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 in which each of the robot jellyfish costs a few dollars and feeds on energy from prey already present in the ocean,” reports John Dabiri of Caltech, one of the authors of the study published in Science Advances.
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