What's with the Jellyfish?


Only the Spineless

The US Army is considering enlisting robots inspired by invertebrates. Soldiers might end up using flexible robots inspired to go where human can not go.  

The University of Minnesota and the US Army Research Laboratory have teamed up to develop pliable materials that can be 3-D printed, on the battlefield, if necessary.  These autonomous robots can move easily in confined spaces and slither into small holes the way biological organisms such as squids might maneuver.  These shape-shifting invertebrates could move freely in highly populated environments where humans and rigid robots could not negotiate.

Soft polymorphic invertebrates may offer the military unimagined on-demand, tailorable autonomous systems for operations in the tight confines of complex, congested, and non-permissive environments such as dense urban and subterranean environments. It is claimed that soft robotics are more resilient in arduous conditions. The arduous environments are dense urban and subterranean environments.

These #D printed robots can move easily in confined quarters and have flexible maneuverability.  This makes these soft invertebrates superior to robots made from rigid mechanical parts.

Researchers have created a soft 3D-printed dielectric elastomer actuator -- an electroactive polymer that changes shape when hit with an electrical charge. 

This 3D-printed actuator can make extreme bending motions, which means it could be used to fit through spaces humans can't maneuver.

Flexible robots are self-aware, self-sensing and capable shape-shifting to adapt to various conditions, according to a researcher who specializes in nonlinear structural dynamics.

In 2016 Harvard researchers created a bio-inspired robots a tentacled soft robot called Octobot made entirely of flexible parts and inspired by real-life octopi. 

The tiny robot's squishy-looking tentacles move via a specific chemical reaction that turns hydrogen peroxide into gas that flows into Octobot's arms, inflating them like a balloon. 

At Case Western Reserve University created a robot made from the muscle of a sea slug in a flexible 3D-printed polymer body. Robots such as these could be used in surveillance missions. 

In 2015, NASA began studying the use of a soft, tentacled robots that could some day explore watery moons like Jupiter's Europa.

"This rover resembles a squid, with tentacle-like structures that serve both as electrodynamic tethers to harvest power from locally changing magnetic fields and as a means of bio-inspired propulsion.  Optionally, the skin of the robot will be a stretchable, electroluminescent display for illuminating the local marine environment, to enable underwater imaging."

 Just the Beginning?

In February DARPA launched their ECHO Program.  ECHO aims to develop technologies that enable the use of an (human) individual’s epigenome to reveal their history of exposure to weapons of mass destruction and their precursors.

Notice the questions and answers above, especially #34.  Weapons of Mass Destruction and Invertebrates?  The provocative twist of this proposal is that by 12 months it requires 5 non-biological signatures, which means a hybrid of sorts.

Swarms of Jellyfish in the Skies?

On May 24th, a swarm of luminous jellyfish appeared over Oklahoma. "A swarm of jellyfish sprites, that is," says Paul Smith, who photographed them rising above an intense thunderstorm near Oklahoma City.

"The sprites were about 80 miles away from me," says Smith. "At that distance I could see over the tops of the storm cells where the jellyfish appear. I've photographed many sprites from 200 to 300 miles away. These, however, were unusually nearby, and they are my best pictures yet."

Sprites are an exotic form of upward directed lightning. Scientists did not believe they existed until after 1989 when sprites were photographed by cameras onboard the space shuttle. Now "sprite chasers" like Smith routinely photograph them.

The blue pushpin is Sprites Swarm seen on May 24, 2018.

Oklahoma is the epicenter of a region that we call "Sprite Alley"--a corridor stretching across the US Great Plains where intense thunderstorms produce lots of upward directed lightning.

Some researchers believe that sprites may be linked to cosmic rays: Subatomic particles from deep space strike the top of Earth's atmosphere, producing secondary electrons that trigger the upward bolts. If this is true, then sprites could multiply in the months and years ahead as cosmic rays intensify but if this is the case, why are they a relatively new atmospheric phenomena?  People should have been documenting them for centuries. 

Since there was a swarm, and invertebrates and trending in the technological world, will we be seeing other surprising invertebrates (maybe holographic cousins) as part of the Army's new robotic program? 


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