The Future is Here: The Autonomous Robotic Jellyfish!

Matt Russiello submerges the RoboJelly. Remember the Medusoid, that creepy robot jellyfish creature that debuted in July of 2012? Well, it seems that Virginia Tech was working on their own, with help from the military. Yes, whereas the medusoid was a project in organic-synthetic interfacing, a collaborative effort between Harvard University and Caltech researchers, this one is the result of ongoing work by the United States Navy.

After years of working on their own model for a robot jellyfish, they unveiled the fruits of that labor earlier this month. Named Cyro – a contraction of robot and Cyanea capillata (the species name for the lion’s mane jellyfish) – this 170 pound biomimetic machine looks and act like a jellyfish, but is in fact an autonomous robot.

cyro1And much the Medusoid and Robojelly – Cyro’s hand-sized predecessor – this second-generation model utilizes what is called “Bio-Inspired Shape memory Alloy Composites (BISMAC)” in order to mimic the motions of the real thing. This consists of a
layer of smart materials (aka. shape memory alloy) that is soft and shaped in such a way to maximize deformation and propulsion.

Underneath this layer of composite material are a number of actuators (i.e. robotic arms) that control the movements of the Cyro. These in turn are mounted on a central body that contains enough hardware to allow the robot to communicate, gather information, and make decisions. What’s more, the developers envisage a fleet of networked Cyros, conducting surveillance and research and sharing the results with each other.

cyro2And as the video below explains, this robot jellyfish is likely to have numerous applications. These included environmental monitoring, cleaning up oil spills, or conducting military surveillance. Of course, it seems pretty obvious what the primary use of the Cyro is going to be, given that the ONR and the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center are responsible for funding it!

No telling how Human Right Watch will react to this, though. How safe would you feel, knowing that the next time you’re snorkeling, swimming or ocean kayaking that a perfectly innocent looking Man-of-War could be spying on you? Check out the video of the Cyro being tested below:


The Future is Here: Animals Created from Stem Cells!

dna-computingThe field of biotech has been making some very interesting strides of late. First there was the medusoid, a cybernetic jellyfish that used electric current and real muscle tissue over a synthetic to generate movement. Then there was the creation of world’s first true cyborg flesh, where Harvard University researchers merged rat flesh and nanowires to create augmented” tissue. This was followed shortly thereafter by the creation of a remote controlled cyborg cockroach.

These are just the tip of the iceberg however, with the most impressive research and development in the field of biotech still yet to be unveiled. However, this most recent breakthrough is a real game-changer which is sure to lead in some new and interesting directions. This would be the creation, by scientists working at Kyoto University, of the world’s first animal crated entirely from stem cells.

Apparently, the research team produced mouse eggs using stem cells alone, and this comes on the heals of a previous accomplishment where the same team produced mouse sperm using the same methods. This allowed them to fertilize and create mice entirely by artificial means. While this presents a great deal of potential for stem cells research and its regenerative potential, there are those who worry that this might signal new and frightening possibilities for human procreation. If it’s possible to create human ova and sperm in the same way, could we be entering an age when human parents are no longer needed to create a child?

This represents the next step for Mitinori Saitou, the leader of the Kyoto research team, and his crew. It is there hope that these recent advancements will allow them to create primordial cells from human tissue. The primary purpose for this will be to help couples who are experiencing fertility problems by offering them the option of having biological children that are derived from their own stem cells. It could also allow women to have babies later in life, or for women who cannot get pregnant due to cancer treatments.

More conceptually, however, the breakthrough suggests that human babies might someday be born from tissue samples and cell lines alone. If all that is needed is for stem cells to be harvested from living tissue, then no parents need be directly involved. There are clearly a host of ethical implications that need to be addressed from this, not the least of which is the issue of who has the right to spawn human beings? And moreover, what purpose would they be spawned for? Human replacements? Breeding stock? Super soldiers? Oh, the mind reals at the possible sci-fi cliches!


The Future is Here: Cyborg Flesh!

My thanks to Futurist Foresight for turning me onto this article. I would have reblogged, but it was just easier to follow the links and post on my own. You may recall some weeks back when the news hit the airwaves, about how researchers at Caltech developed the medusoid, a cybernetic jellyfish that was capable of mimicking the behavior of the original. Well, it turns out bioengineers at Harvard University have gone a step a further.

Merging the neurons, muscle cells, and blood vessels of various rats with nanowires and transistors that can monitor bioelectric impulses, these researchers were able to create the world’s first hybrid living/electronic cells. Much like the medusiod, the cells were controlled through electrical impulses, which allowed them to function like normal cells, except controlled via a computerized interface.

In time, they anticipate that this will lead to the development of nanotechnology that will allow them to make subtle changes in a person’s biochemistry. More than that, they could become the basis of tiny medical machines, such as microscopic pacemakers, or as microcircuits for prosthetics and silicate implants. On top of all that, this research is a big step along the road to the development of nanorobots, machines so tiny that they alter or maintain a person’s health at a cellular level.

“It allows one to effectively blur the boundary between electronic, inorganic systems and organic, biological ones,” said Charles Lieber, the team leader in an interview with New Scientist. And he’s absolutely right. With developments such as these and the boundaries they are pushing, human-machine interface, implant technology, robotic prosthetics and upgrades, and even the merging of our minds with computers could all be on the horizon. For some, this will mean the arrival of the long awaited Homo Superior, the new age man. For others, its a chance to tremble at the specter of a cybernetic future!

Both are fine choices, whatever floats your boat 😉