MIT’s computer science and AI lab (CSAIL) has developed a soft robotic fish, called SoFi for short, using 3D printing and built-in cameras so it blends in with life underwater, making it easier to learn about secretive shoals.
Blue Plant II brought some impressive aquatic animals to our screens using a number of ingenious methods. However, to help spy on sea life further, researchers from MIT’s computer science and AI Lab (CSAIL) have now developed a soft robotic fish.
The fish is nicknamed SoFi and has built-in cameras. It looks and moves just like a fish meaning it can swim amongst sea creatures without scaring them, all while capturing their natural behavior on camera.
Although there are many ways in which humans capture shy fish on camera, SoFi it notable for its use of 3D printing. The technology enables researchers to quickly and easily produce a soft robot fish.
“It’s elegant and beautiful to watch in motion. We were excited 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,” said Daniela Rus, Director of CSAIL.
Bringing SoFi to Life with 3D Printing
The fish neatly slots together making it relatively easy to assemble and replace broken parts. Its housing is made from 3D printed plastic and molded parts. From tail to nose, it is 18.5 inches long. SoFi can swim underwater for around 40 minutes and dive to an impressive 60 feet.
To make the robot work, the head is full of electronics including a Linux PC. The tail is made from silicone elastomer and moved around by a hydraulic pump. This pump is quiet, making it easy for the fake fish to blend in.
The middle of the fish is made from urethane foam to keep it buoyant. However, there is also a buoyancy tank full of compressed air built-in which enables the researchers to adjust the depth of the fish and enabling it to stay in one place.
The researchers built a remote module – using an old SNES joypad – to control the fish underwater. The “miniaturized acoustic communication module” can control speed, turning angle and dynamic vertical diving. But, the fish can swim semi-autonomously – unless a researcher changes her route, SoFi will swim in one direction.
“It could be an extraordinary tool for studying marine biology. To find out about the secret lives of animals that live underwater, we need to collect more data. This could help,” said Rus.
Already the CSAIL team are planning many upgrades to improve SoFi. Currently, a human has to be with the robot to operate it, however, they think this could be changed with the addition of live-stream video.
They also hope to create more SoFi robots in future to help learn more about underwater life. “There are just so many mysterious underwater phenomena we have yet to witness,” adds Rus.
Find out more about SoFi by reading the paper published in the Journal Science Robotics.
Source: The Verge