Scientists at Florida Atlantic University have developed jellyfish robots designed to monitor coral reefs and send information about fragile environments back to environmentalists.

The robots are powered by hydraulic-powered tentacles that can swim and steer around underwater environments. They have gone through extensive testing to ensure they can swim-or crawl – through tiny spaces.

They’ve been developed around the concept of a moon jellyfish larva, with water pumped from its surrounding environment used to fill the rubber tentacles and make them move the jellyfish around.

“Studying and monitoring fragile environments, such as coral reefs, has always been challenging for marine researchers. Soft robots have great potential to help with this,” Dr Erik Engeberg said.

“Biomimetic soft robots based on fish and other marine animals have gained popularity in the research community in the last few years. Jellyfish are excellent candidates because they are very efficient swimmers,” he added.

They are able to push themselves forward, move and suction themselves to other marine life in order to monitor what’s happening on the reefs.

The jellybots were developed using 3D printing techniques, with five different models produced to see which materials were most effective to carry out their tasks. The scientists were able to build robots that could fit through an opening smaller than their diameter

“A main application of the robot is exploring and monitoring delicate ecosystems, so we chose soft hydraulic network actuators to prevent inadvertent damage,” Engeberg added. “Additionally, live jellyfish have neutral buoyancy. To mimic this, we used water to inflate the hydraulic network actuators while swimming.”

He said future robots will feature environmental sensors and navigational programming to help them better find gaps to swim through, unlocking hidden areas that possibly haven’t been explored before.