Robotic fish could help study ocean life

A group of scientists have developed a life-like robotic fish that can expertly blend in with sea creatures.
By Joseph Scalise | Sep 01, 2018
A new robotic fish could help researchers better study and understand ocean life, new research published in the journalScience Robotics.

The machine -- which is named SoFi -- looks and moves like a fish in order to blend in with different sea creatures. It comes from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who developed the incredibly versatile bot with sensors and special built-in cameras. Such upgrades allow it to move about the ocean without startling any animals.

Though this is not the first time scientists have created a fish-like robot for scientific use, it is the first to blend together a wide range of unique innovations.

For example, its special housing is created from molded and 3D plastic that make it both cheap and easy to build. It also has a built-in buoyancy tank, a custom control system, and a semi-autonomous swimming system that allows it to continue in one direction on its own. However, a controller can steer or move the bot if needed.

While all of those upgrades are important, the most advanced feature is SoFi's propulsion system. In it, a hydraulic actuator moves the tail fin by pumping water in and out of internal chamber. That process is much quieter and less dangerous than using propellers, which better helps the machine blend in.

"It's elegant and beautiful to watch in motion," said study co-author Daniela Rus, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, toldThe Verge. "We were exited to see that our fish could swim side by side with real fish, and they didn't swim away. This is quite different to when a human diver approaches."

This style of robot comes from the field of biomimetics, which aims to copy or imitate natural animal movements. Though there are many machines that work in that way, none of them capture natural fish movements like SoFi does. The next step is to put it out into the wild and see what it can help researchers discover.

"For us, this fish is magical," addedRus,according to The Los Angeles Times. "We imagine someday it might help us uncover more mysteries from the amazing underwater world that we know so little about."

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