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Jellyfish-shredding robots dispatched to clean Korea's coast

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October 8, 2013

While traveling in a 'swarm,' as the developers are calling it, the robots will wirelessly...

While traveling in a 'swarm,' as the developers are calling it, the robots will wirelessly exchange information about their locations to ensure they remain spaced apart evenly

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Over the past few years, jellyfish populations along South Korea's coastline have risen to the point where they are adversely affecting the fish populations and marine industries in the area, costing the country over 3 billion won (about US$2.8 million) each year. A team led by Associate Professor Hyun Myung of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology however may have a solution with the JEROS (Jellyfish Elimination RObotic Swarm), a series of autonomous robots that work together to track down jellyfish in the ocean and grind them into a pulp.

It may sound like a harsh method for getting rid of them, but in South Korea, jellyfish are becoming a serious pest, and in some cases a fatal hazard. Over 2,000 people were treated for jellyfish stings in the country last year, including one child who later died from the injuries. In recent years, officials with the National Fisheries Research & Development Institute have attempted to tackle the problem by trawling the southern coast with nets and releasing natural jellyfish predators into the area, but these methods have proven to be either too costly or ineffective.

Myung and his team have been working on a robotic method for dealing with the problem since 2009 and completed their first successful field test last year. More recently, the group upgraded its invention's speed and programming so it can work at a much faster rate.

Each JEROS robot is held afloat by two pontoons fitted with motorized propellers, which keep the bot stable on the water while controlling its speed and direction. A square net is suspended underwater along the bot's width and pulls nearby jellyfish into it using its own propulsion. Any jellyfish that get scooped up are guided straight into a separate propeller, which instantly grinds them into a pulp that disperses in the water.

The robot uses a combination of GPS and INS (inertial navigation system) to accurately determine its location and orientation in the ocean within 1.5 m (4.9 ft). Researchers can wirelessly upload data on current jellyfish hot spots to the JEROS's onboard computer and microprocessor to have it plot a course to these areas on its own. A camera also scans the surface of the water, while the built-in computer processes the images to identify any jellyfish within range by their shape. Using all these features, a controller can either have the JEROS steer itself autonomously towards higher concentrations of jellyfish or manually issue commands from a distance.

But one lone robot would take far too long to deplete the jellyfish's numbers, which is why a large portion of the project has focused on developing an algorithm to have several robots coordinate their efforts. A single robot can be designated the leader and will determine a path to follow, while other JEROS bots trawl alongside it in formation, covering a much larger area. While traveling in a "swarm," as the developers are calling it, the robots will wirelessly exchange information about their locations to ensure they remain spaced apart evenly. This also makes the removal process easier on the controllers, since they only have to focus on the leader bot's course.

These images show ow the JEROS scans the water and identifies jellyfish just below the sur...

Myung's team recently ran a series of test in Gyeongnam Masan Bay with three JEROS bots moving at a speed of 4 knots (7.2 km/h or 4.6 mph) and found they were able to eradicate 900 kg (1,984 lbs) of jellyfish per hour. To put that into perspective, the most common species appearing on Korea's shores is the moon jellyfish, which has been found to weigh upwards of 150 grams. At that weight, the JEROS would be able to eliminate a total of 6,000 jellies in the same time frame. However, it might have some difficulty with the Nomura's jellyfish, which are also commonly found in Korea's waters and have been found to grow up to 200 kg (440 lb).

Myung and his team are still conducting further tests to determine the JEROS's efficiency under various conditions and whether any further improvements need to be made. Aside from handling Korea's jellyfish problem, they also foresee the project being adapted to other aquatic missions, such as ocean cleanup, marine surveillance, and oil spill prevention.

The video below shows how the JEROS captures jellyfish from an underwater viewpoint, however our more sensitive readers should be warned that it also shows the grisly process of disposing of them.

Sources: KAIST, Urban Robotics Lab via IEEE

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things.   All articles by Jonathan Fincher
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11 Comments

wonder what the unintended consequences of that much jellyfish food being made available is

science ninja
9th October, 2013 @ 10:06 am PDT

This should be a stub wing plane shape with the prop in front and just drive through the jellyfish. faster, far less power needed.

It can go far deeper too as many more below.

This is going to become a much larger problem as the polluted seas warm which can't hold as much O2, holding more CO2 driving away fish, etc, jellyfish thrive. Fish, not so much..

jerryd
9th October, 2013 @ 10:17 am PDT

don't they release their eggs when under attack, kind of a survival tactic,

Michiel Mitchell
9th October, 2013 @ 10:55 am PDT

So many times in the past, man has tried to solve a problem in Nature that has backfired! It struck me that jellyfish might be organisms that reproduce themselves from the parts like starfish and Korea might end up with millions of jellyfish where they once had thousands...Tim(e) will tell!

Timeswimmer
9th October, 2013 @ 11:08 am PDT

Why not eat the jellyfish? It seems a great waste to simply shred a good food source. I have seen a few articles that suggest they are a great food source and have been eaten in China for a "1000 years". Apparently a cafe in Washington DC, Jackey Cafe, serves a jellyfish dish. Try a simple Google search and then wonder why we would build machines to simply shred this resource!!!

Don Betton
9th October, 2013 @ 12:16 pm PDT

No mention of energy source and endurance for these robots?

Tony Morris
9th October, 2013 @ 05:13 pm PDT

How do they prevent by-catch? Just by the strength of the draw toward the prop? How would it deal with something less shreddable, like a plastic bag? The swarm stuff seems like technology for its own sake - surely a three meter piece of plastic rod would have kept the three "swarmers" apart even more accurately and at almost no cost?

Marcus Carr
9th October, 2013 @ 06:31 pm PDT

How much methane do jellyfish produce when decomposing?

Slowburn
9th October, 2013 @ 07:57 pm PDT

Yeah, it has been many times that man attempts to deal with consequences, instead of reasons. All proved unsuccessful. Jellyfish did not multiply for no reason, did it? I believe it is a wrong effort, in spite of good intentions. The only sure way to get rid of too many jellyfish is to withdraw the reasons that favored their rapid reproduction. If I remember correctly, the increase of water temperature, which hampers other sea creatures life and reproduction, helps jellyfish...

During the last 5-6 years spearos have observed the presence of several Aegean sea fishes in the Black sea where they have never been seen before! We believe they are looking for cooler waters...

Volodya Kotsev
10th October, 2013 @ 05:03 am PDT

A bounty on jellyfish might work, the carcass might be used for fertilizer or cat food .

Jay Finke
11th October, 2013 @ 10:28 am PDT

A few posts nailed it on replication. Shredding the jellyfish will enable the creatures to multiply by the millions if not billions. Their problem will increase dramatically. Just look at the breeding process and how jellyfish replicate. Their cells can proliferate on their own if needed. The whole creature requires eradication. Use it as a food source or fuel source.

fsa0033
14th October, 2013 @ 09:29 pm PDT
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