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Biomimetic Jellyfish Robotic

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.


alex1 Figure 1: Aurelia aurita in a dye test. Starting and stopping vortices are shown are a crucial part of rowing jellyfish propulsion. Image courtesy of Dr. Jack Costello, Providence College.

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.


alex2 Figure 2: Robojelly with uniform bell in water

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.


  • Villanueva A., Bressers S., Tadesse Y. and Priya S., 2009 "Jellyfish inspired underwater unmanned vehicle," Proc. SPIE 7287 72871G, DOI:10.1117/12.815754
  • Villanueva A., Joshi K. B., Blottman J. B. and Priya S. 2010a "A bio-inspired shape memory alloy composite (BISMAC) actuator," Smart Mater. Struct. 19 025013
  • Villanueva A, Anna C., Smith C. and Priya S. 2010b "RoboJelly Bell Kinematics and Resistance Feedback Control," The 2010 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Biomimetics (ROBIO2010) To be published
  • Villanueva A. and Priya S. 2010c "BISMAC control using SMA resistance feedback" Proc. SPIE 7642 76421Z, DOI:10.1117/12.847788
  • Villanueva A., Smith C. and Priya S. 2011 "A Biomimetic Robotic Jellyfish (Robojelly) Actuated by Shape Memory Alloy Bioinsp. & Biomi." Submitted