While there's still a debate over whether the world's real jellyfish population is exploding or not, a team at Virginia Tech is working hard to supplement the prehistoric blobs' numbers with robotic monsters of their own. Huzzah?

The team from Virginia Tech's College of Engineering led by professor of mechanical engineering Shashank Priya unveiled a new robotic jellyfish prototype today, dubbed the Cyro. It's name is derived from the species it is designed to mimic, Cyanea capillata ("Lion's Mane"), and robot. The Cyro is 5-foot, 7-inches in diameter and weighs 170 pounds. That's a massive size increase from the team's previous model—the hand-sized, hydrogen-powered RoboJelly. The Cyro's bowl-shaped electronics compartment is attached to eight mechanical arms and surrounded by a squishy, silicon skin, which allows the robot to gently propel itself through the water.

How well and how efficiently it does so is the crux of the team's research. To perform these tests, the Cyro is dunked into a 600-gallon tank at VT's Durham Hall and its ability to move and generate energy is observed.

"We hope to improve on this robot and reduce power consumption and improve swimming performance as well as better mimic the morphology of the natural jellyfish," mechanical engineering doctorate student, Alex Villanueva, said in a press statement. "Our hopes for Cyro's future is that it will help understand how the propulsion mechanism of such animal scales with size."

Both Cyro and the RoboJelly are part of a $5 million multi-University project funded by the US Navy to study autonomous seafaring robots capable of producing their own power. This research could lead to aquatic surveillance or monitoring drones that would keep tabs on water conditions and sea life, or search for undersea mineral deposits.

But that won't be for quite some time, mind you. The researchers concede that both prototypes are still years away from taking over the high seas. [VT News via PhysOrg]