MITs FishBot Explores New Ocean Depths

first_imgStay on target Evan Rachel Wood Just As Disturbed by Humanoid Sophia As Everyone ElseMIT’s Thread-Like Robot Slides Through Blood Vessels In the Brain Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.center_img We’ve mapped only about 5 percent of the world’s oceans, leaving some 65 percent of Earth (excluding dry land) unexplored.And what better way to investigate even further than with robots?A team from MIT CSAIL this week introduced “SoFi,” a soft robotic fish that independently swims alongside real seafood. The idea is to document marine life up close, without human interference.“To our knowledge, this is the first robotic fish that can swim untethered in three dimensions for extended periods of time,” lead study author Robert Katzschmann said in a statement.SoFi’s undulating tail and buoyancy control unit allows it to move in a straight line, turn, or dive up and down, swimming at depths of more than 50 feet for up to 40 minutes.My favorite part of the nimble machine is its waterproofed Super Nintendo controller, which allows the team to change SoFi’s speed and manage its actions.“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,” CSAIL Ph.D. candidate Katzschmann said.Autonomous underwater vehicles (UAVs) are traditionally tethered to boats or powered by bulky propellers. But not SoFi. Lightweight, with a single camera, a motor, and the same lithium polymer battery found in consumer smartphones, the robot’s movements mimic a real fish.The entire back half of the fish is made of silicone rubber and flexible plastic; several components, including the head, are 3D-printed. Fun fact: To reduce the chance of water leaking into the machinery, developers filled the head with a bit of baby oil.Praising the scientists’ “technical achievements” in fabrication, powering, and water resistance, Cecilia Laschi, professor of biorobotics at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Italy, suggested that a device like SoFi “can help explore the reef more closely than current robots.”“Both because it can get closer more safely to the reef and because it can be better accepted by the marine species,” she explained.Indeed, SoFi boasts a minimal-noise motor and ultrasonic emissions.“The robot is capable of close observations and interactions with marine life and appears to not be disturbing to real fish,” CSAIL director Daniela Rus said.This project is just one part of a larger program focused on soft robots. The machines are potentially safer, sturdier, and more nimble than their hard-bodied counterparts, not to mention easier to control.Moving forward, the team will continue improving SoFi; they plan to build additional fish bots for biologists to use in their studies.“We view SoFi as a first step toward developing almost an underwater observatory of sorts,” Rus added. “It has the potential to be a new type of tool for ocean exploration and to open up new avenues for uncovering the mysteries of marine life.”The study results were published this week in the journal Science Robotics.last_img

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