MIT Designs a Robot Fish to Explore the Waters of Fiji

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 - 7:28PM
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Wednesday, 21 March 2018 - 7:28PM
MIT Designs a Robot Fish to Explore the Waters of Fiji
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YouTube/MITCSAIL
Considering how easy it is to scare off a fish, they can be difficult animals to study without attaching a camera to a fish and letting it swim off.

Luckily, we can approximate that without actually endangering any fish. Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a soft robotic fish named "SoFi", designed to replicate the movements of a harmless fish so it can independently swim alongside sea life without setting off any alarm bells.

See the little guy in action below:



SoFi is capable of swimming in a straight line, up and down, etc. all on its own, although the researchers built a remote control (as you can see in the video, it's literally just a modified SNES controller in a waterproof casing) to alter SoFi's speed and make it execute specific turns when it needs some guidance.

It's got a simple camera with a fisheye lens (CSAIL is aware of the pun), a motor, and a lithium polymer battery, making it a fairly straightforward device in contrast to other robotic devices designed for underwater diving

Most of the test dives have been taking place in Rainbow Reef off the coast of Fiji, diving up to 50 feet (15.2 meters) for up to 40 minutes at a time. As you can see, it can get notably close to other fish without scaring them off, making it an invaluable tool for studying marine life.



Robert Katzschmann, a CSAIL PhD candidate and the lead author of a paper in Science Robotics about SoFi, said the following in a press release from MIT:

Opening quote
"To our knowledge, this is the first robotic fish that can swim untethered in three dimensions for extended periods of time. We are excited about the possibility of being able to use a system like this to get closer to marine life than humans can get on their own."
Closing quote


Perhaps the best part of SoFi is that it's among the first soft robots to not look kind of gross. The growing field of soft robotics opens up some new opportunities for more flexible robots, but many of them look uncomfortably squishy

SoFI just looks like a fish, which is a nice change.
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