Jellyfish Killing Robots Developed in Korea

Jellyfish population is increasing globally. They don’t only sting thousands of people but they also cause damage to the cooling systems of power reactors. Now researchers from Korea developed a new tool set to eliminate them – an autonomous robot swarm. However other scientists are not sure that this method will not backfire, contaminating the sea with even more Jellyfish.

Although Jellyfish have been effecting many areas across the globe (some scientists suspect their increase in numbers has to do with global climate change and a sharp drop in its natural predators), in South Korea these creatures have become more than a simple nuisance. Over 2000 people have been treated after getting stung by Jellyfish last year and a child was even reported to die from his injuries, not to mention millions of dollars lost due to medical costs and fishing industry damage caused by Jellyfish.

To combat this problem researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology led by Associate Professor Hyun Myung, developed the Jellyfish Elimination RObotic Swarm (or simply JEROS). This new series of water robots have been designed with one task in mind – seek and destroy large numbers of Jellyfish.

JEROS robots in formation

The team have been working on the robots since 2009. Each robot has two cylindrical bodies that keeps it afloat and also includes motors which move forward and backwards and allow the robot to spin as necessary. Using GPS and inertial navigation system the lead robot is guided by a human controller to a location at sea where suspected Jellyfish are located, while the rest of the robots communicate with it wirelessly and keep moving in formation, hunting for Jellyfish using built in cameras.  The robots use a combination of attached nets to capture Jellyfish and a high speed propeller to grind the Jellyfish instantly. Moving in formation a group of JEROS units can eliminate several tons of Jellyfish each day – making them potentially one of the best methods for combating this nuisance.

However not everybody is so certain that this is the best way to combat the problem. jellyfish biologist Rebecca Helm notes on her blog that the dead Jellyfish will either sink to the sea floor and contaminate it or – worse – it may wash onto beaches, where the disembodied tentacles will still sting people.

Apparently some biologists believe that not all Jellyfish will even get killed by the high speed propeller. “Some jellies just don’t get macerated by a cutting blade, they bounce off ” as Dr. Martin Lilley points out, others “will likely just get stuck in the intake and stay there, halting the whole system”.
The biggest potential problem according to Helm can be artificial fertilization. When you cut open thousands of Jellyfish every hour, you release countless jellies worth of eggs and sperm into the water all at once, rather than slowly over time. and as she puts it: “where are those embryos going to go? They’re going to the sea floor to metamorphose into polyps, in stressful conditions that are now great for them and terrible for everyone else  (thanks to all the dead biomass floating around) and they’re going to multiply (Jelly polyps can live for years, and can clone themselves). One polyp can produce hundreds of clones, and each clone can produce hundreds of jellies”.
If Helm and other marine biologists are right – JEROS can actually do more harm than good. Its developers are not deterred and they are still performing tests on the robots and hoping to commercialize they soon with the basic design adapted for other missions as well including ocean cleanup, marine surveillance, and oil spill prevention.

A demonstration of the JEROS grinding Jellyfish

JEROS robots at sea in formation