Researchers att MIT have designed and developed a soft-bodied robotic fish that can silently and easily glide underwater, mimicking the undulating movements of real fish.
Nicknamed SoFi, this is the first robotic fish that is able to withstand ocean currents and pressures for a prolonged amount of time, The Los Angeles Times reports.
In their study, the reserchers described how SoFi can navigate through complex coral reefs in Fiji, swimming in all directions while a scientist-diver controls the robot with what looks like a game controller.
SoFi can also handle depths of up to 60 feet, and is able to swim alongside live fish without scaring them off.
Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT and lead author on the study, says,
For us, this fish is magical. We imagine someday it might help us uncover more mysteries from the amazing underwater world that we know so little about.
The robot is tiny, measuring only a foot and a half long and weighing just 3.5 pounds. A hydraulic pump puts water into its soft tail from side to side, letting the artifical fish swim in a very lifelike way.
There is a Linux PC and a fisheye lens in SoFi’s head, and the whole thing runs on a small battery similar to those used in cellphones. It can stay underwater and move for as long as 40 minutes.
In addition, many of the robot’s parts are 3D-printed, meaning it will be easy and cheap to reproduce. The design can also be scaled up or down, though the scientists caution that a bigger version would be more difficult to control, and a smaller model may not be as sturdy when faced with tides.
Rus said that the MIT team is currently working to add more features to the robot, including video transmission, faster movements, and accurate color imaging.
The study was published in Science Robotics.