No surprise here, but MIT has done it again! The Boston-based technical juggernaut of a university has once again concocted an innovation that is the first of its kind, providing a solution to the age-old issue of observing marine life without altering their natural behavior.
Their invention – a soft robotic fish designed to maintain a sense of normalcy among the marine life it is capturing via built-in ‘Fisheye’ camera – allows a diver to control the observant device from a distance without impacting the natural course of the ecosystem, providing valuable data that the diver himself otherwise could not.
The soft robotic element is put to use through the fish’s propulsion system, which was created in the fashion of biomimetics in order to mirror living fish’s movements as closely as possible. The tail’s back and forth flexing provides the robot’s power, which is made possible due to the alternating pumping of oil into balloon-like pouches on one side of the tail to the other. This injecting of liquid into expanding and contracting pouches is a hallmark of soft robotics, and the alternating motion of the tail means that the robotic fish can move up to 21.7 meters per second.
The fish, given the name SoFi, contains a silicone rubber tail – the material which allows the flexing motion – while the head, containing electronic control mechanisms, is 3D-printed and waterproof. The robot’s fins are equipped with dive planes that allow it to move in three dimensions at a depth of up to fifty feet. This three-dimensional range of movement, along with its unparalleled ability to blend into its marine surroundings, are what distinguish this robotic fish from its predecessors.
To our knowledge, this is the first robotic fish that can swim untethered in three dimensions for extended periods of time, says CSAIL PhD candidate Robert Katzschmann. 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.
The fish is controlled by a diver, who can dictate the robot’s movements from a safe distance using ultrasonic technology. SoFi has a battery life of approximately 40 minutes, which is only a bit shorter than the typical time which divers tend to stay submerged. With this innovation, MIT has yet again raised the respective bar, and they will surely provide consistent returns in terms of stunning images and realistic, relevant data captured through SoFi’s eye.