There’s still quite a lot that we don’t understand about the oceans here on Earth. Part of that is obviously due to the absolute crushing depths that the waterways can descend to, though our exploration methods may also be causing at least some of the problem. Submarines, underwater drones, and other submersible exploration equipment oftentimes sticks out quite a bit, and makes noise during operation. That’s the kind of thing that can spook fish, or at least make them behave in ways outside of normal. Researchers at MIT have developed SoFi, a robot fish that looks and behaves remarkably like a fish. SoFi could have applications not only in science and research but also in maintenance and other areas of business that require a set of eyes underwater.
SoFi is made out of silicon and flexible plastics, allowing it to take on a biomimetic design. The robot looks and acts like a fish, albeit a fish that is controlled by what looks like a wireless Super Nintendo controller. You can see SoFi in action in the video below:
The realistic movement comes by way of several systems:
The robot’s locomotion system consists of several parts. The onboard lithium battery (a standard smartphone model, actually) powers two balloon-like chambers in the robot’s tail. When inflated or deflated, the chambers operate like pistons, creating a side-to-side swimming motion. An internal buoyancy control unit allows the fish to adjust its position vertically, diving to a range of up to 18 meters below the surface.
Researchers have taken care to give the robot some protection from the elements. Since its body is soft plastic and silicon it could very easily be crushed by pressure underwater. The head of the fish is filled with baby oil in order to keep the head from being crushed or developing leaks since the oil does not compress as the outer pressure increases.
During its testing, SoFi was able to move among groups of fish without any noticeable agitation or displacement of the living fish. At this time, the controller needs to stay within 20 meters of the robot, which was another conscious decision so as not to disturb sea life. Upcoming updates to SoFi include improving its speed as well as adding camera controls that would allow it to automatically follow fish or other moving objects.
Last Updated on March 28, 2018.