By Alex Villanueva
Alex Villanueva conducts research on biomimetic jellyfish robotics. He is developing an unmanned underwater vehicle for the Office of Naval Research which will be used for surveillance purposes. This vehicle will have a broad range of applications for both military and civilian uses. The objectives of the individual vehicle nodes are to communicate with each other and make decisions as a network. The project is a multi university research initiative (MURI) which includes five schools from around the country. Each school contributes a separate piece of the puzzle such as communications, sensors, actuators, biology, and propulsion.
Alex’s main research focus is vehicle design and propulsion. He is trying to copy the motion and performance of natural jellyfish as well as their physical appearance. A first generation of vehicle called Robojelly has been made and is currently being tested and analyzed, Fig. 2. This vehicle is able to propel itself and has proficiency similar to its natural counterpart. For actuation, Robojelly utilizes Bio-Inspired Shape memory Alloy Composites (BISMAC) actuators which were also developed by Alex (Villanueva et al, 2009). These actuators consist of smart materials called shape memory alloy arranged in a way that maximizes deformation.
Robojelly is helping engineers and biologist understand the function of various parameters found on jellyfish. It allows them to vary different components and analyze their role. This would otherwise be impossible on the natural animal without disabling natural functions.