Ethiopian Engineer Developed First-Ever Aquatic, Hydrogen-Powered Robot

Dr. Yonas Tadesse

Ed’s Note: We are happy to share with our readers another inspiring story about a fellow African, who developed the first-ever under-water hydrogen-powered robot. Ethiopia born Dr. Yonas Tadesse is the lead author of the research and he led a team that published its findings in the journal Smart Materials.

Dr. Yonas received his B.S degree from Addis Ababa University in 2000 and M.S from Indian Institute of technology Bombay in 2005 and Ph.D from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2009, all in Mechanical Engineering. His research interests are in Humanoid robotics, emerging applications of smart materials, sensors, and actuators, mechatronic system, multimodal energy harvesting, modeling, controls and biomimetics. He is currently a professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of Texas in Dallas.

Ethiopian Engineer developed first-ever aquatic, hydrogen-powered robot

Researchers at University of Texas at Dallas and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg have developed an autonomous undersea vehicle inspired by the common jellyfish that runs on hydrogen and oxygen in the water. The team, led by Dallas engineering professor and first author Yonas Tadesse, published its findings this week in the journal Smart Materials and Structures.

The Robojelly, as they call the vehicle, is constructed of two bell-like structures made from silicone that fold like an umbrella. Connecting the structures are connectors acting like muscles that contract to move. These “muscles” are made of a nickel-titanium alloy wrapped in carbon nanotubes, coated with platinum and housed in a pipe.

“We’ve created an underwater robot that doesn’t need batteries or electricity,” said Dr. Yonas Tadesse, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UT Dallas and lead author of the study. “The only waste released as it travels is more water.”

The new self-powered Robojelly is an upgrade of a previous invention that was battery-powered. In the new device, the mixture of hydrogen and oxygen atoms encounter the platinum in the muscle-connectors, with heat and water vapor created as a result. That heat causes a contraction that moves the muscles of the device, pumping out the water and starting the cycle again.

“We’ve created an underwater robot that doesn’t need batteries or electricity,” says Tadesse. “The only waste released as it travels is more water.”

The U.S. Office of Naval Research funded the study. The prototype device is expected to evolve into a system used for surveillance and detecting pollution. Tadesse says the next step in the project will involve refining the legs of the Robojelly to move independently, allowing the device to travel in more than one direction.

The following video shows the Robojelly in motion.