New Robotic Fish Moves Like A Real Fish

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Justine Alford

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437 New Robotic Fish Moves Like A Real Fish
M. Scott Brauer. The soft robotic fish.

A soft robotic fish that was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), by Andrew Marchese, is reported to be capable of movement similar to that of a real fish. This "self-contained autonomous soft robot" can perform rapid movement, and by convulsing its body it can carry out escape maneuvers to change direction almost as quickly as a real fish can. 

Soft robotics is a relatively new field of robotics, which has earned its own journal- Soft Robotics. This field involves the development of robots from soft materials, making them flexible and ideal for movement around limited spaces, with the ability to change gait (locomotion achieved through movement) easily. Daniela Rus, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who also helped to design and build the fish, is very excited about this research. "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."


One of the draws to soft robotics is that, in contrast to other robotic systems whereby collisions with the environment result in inefficient motion, collision may actually aid in their locomotion. This is because soft robots can "use these points of contact as a means of getting to the destination faster," according to Rus in MIT's announcement of the research. 

This particular fish was built by first using a 3D printer to generate molds, which were then used to cast the head and tail from silicone rubber. A polymer ring was used to protect the fish's "guts" (electronics). It runs on carbon dioxide, and in its current form can perform around 20-30 escape maneuvers before running out. Marchese says "The fish was designed to explore performance capabilities, not long-term operation," although he adds "Next steps for future research are taking that system and building something that's compromised on performance a little bit but increases longevity." The new fish will involve a water pump instead of carbon dioxide.

But researchers don't plan on just watching these fish swim around for the fun of it. Rus hopes that these fish can be applied to study fish in their natural habitat. They could be used to infiltrate schools of fish, allowing scientists to gather data on the behaviour of these animals in the wild.

Check out this YouTube video for more info on the fish: