Meet South Korea’s autonomous jellyfish-murdering robots

Normally, I’m completely against the idea of autonomous killing machines. The way I see it, every murderous robot we build to operate without human intervention – no matter how sophisticated and human-friendly it may be – inches us closer toward an Asmiovian dystopia in which humanity terrorized and enslaved by giant mechanized overlords. But, if our drones of death are aimed at humanity’s most fearsome gelatinous enemy, the jellyfish, I won’t make a fuss.

In case you haven’t heard, jellyfish populations are on the rise, and have been for the past few years. Some believe that this is linked to climate change and rising ocean temperatures, others say it’s completely unrelated; but regardless of what’s causing it, there’s no denying that this population boom is problematic. Just last week, a swarm of the creatures (called a “bloom”) caused a Swedish nuclear power plant to shut down when it clogged up the pipes that pump cool ocean water to the plant’s reactor. And that’s only the most recent incident – similar shutdowns have been happening periodically across the globe for years.

South Korea has a particularly rough time keeping the gelatinous hordes away from its coastline, so researchers at the Urban Robotics Lab of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology built something a bit more *cutting edge* than nets and trawlers. JEROS (short for Jellyfish Elimination RObotic Swarm) is basically a giant autonomous blender designed to hunt these gooey little bastards. Check out this video to see it in action.

The bots that make up the swarm float on the surface of the water and use small motors to propel themselves forward. Using a combination of GPS and an array of cameras, each bot in the swarm is able to communicate with the others to orchestrate attacks. Once it acquires a target, JEROS will corral the bloom, converge on it, and liquify the lot of them using special jellyfish-pulverizing propellors. Apparently this system can destroy nearly one ton of jellyfish an hour, making it much faster and efficient than current net-based removal methods.

The Urban Robotics team says it’s working to commercialize JEROS within the next year, and hopes to apply the technology to more than just jellyfish murder. In the future, the team hopes to use JEROS for things like patrolling beaches, oil spill cleanup, and marine debris removal. 

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