If it looks like a fish, swims like a fish, and has a remarkably similar escape maneuver to a fish – it isn’t necessarily a fish. It might be MIT’s new self-contained swimming robot.
The life-like motion of the robotic fish is achieved when chambers along the fish’s “tail” are rapidly inflated and deflated with carbon dioxide stored within the robot’s body. This allows the fish to perform an incredibly realistic escape maneuver in which it entirely redirects its body in a quick 100 milliseconds.
So what’s so important about achieving the natural motion of a fish here? Scientists hope that these robofish could someday be used to sneakily infiltrate schools of actual fish in order to study them up close and personal. Any sort of observations made would presumably be more accurate if the actual fish weren’t constantly freaking out over what is obviously not one of them.
In addition to making it move more realistically, the soft body parts of the fish make it more attractive for interactions with humans. “As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it’s much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there’s no danger if they whack you,” explained Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The various molds for the soft body parts were made using a 3D printer.
All of the fish’s electronic controls are self contained in its “head” (MIT News)
This is not the first robot aimed at achieving the soft, flexible structure often found in living creatures. Check out these bots designed like earthworms that could sustain being crushed by a hammer, and these ones inspired by an octopus’ movement and color changing ability. In fact, this isn’t even the first robotic fish MIT has built. Back in the 1990’s they made the Robotuna, a swimming automaton powered by six-separate motors.
Can you think of any alternative uses for this newest robotic fish? What other natural forms of locomotion are worth recreating with robotics? Are you also picturing an entire school of Robotunas feeding on these smaller fish-bots as an energy source? Cool. Us too.
HT: LiveScience, MIT News