MIT dives into robo-fish pool

Scientists at MIT have created low-cost robot fish that can swim just like the real thing. The fish could be used for underwater surveillance of pollution and pipelines.


On the heels of a scientific report last month saying 63 percent of world fish stocks require rebuilding, scientists at MIT have unveiled a new robot fish that's cheap to make and ripe for mass production.

Actually, MIT engineers Kamal Youcef-Toumi and Pablo Valdivia Y Alvarado aren't aiming to replenish fisheries. They want their robot swimmers to be used for underwater monitoring of pipelines, sunken ships, and pollution. Since the fish are less than a foot long, they can maneuver into spaces that are too tight for most underwater autonomous vehicles (UAVs).

The fish--while not as pretty as these toxin-sniffing robot carp patrolling Spanish waters--are notable for their novel design. They have fewer than 10 parts, making them low-cost, and are housed in a continuous flexible polymer casing that prevents water damage.

Lacking different segments, the fish can swim more naturally, according to MIT (watch the video after the jump). A single motor in the middle initiates a wave that moves along the body and propels it forward. Real fish move in a similar fashion by contracting muscles on either side of their bodies.

Youcef-Toumi noted that the polymers allow for stiffness to be specified in different sections, adding that another application would be robotic prosthetic limbs.

The early versions of the fish, about 5 inches long, swam like bass and trout, with movement concentrated in the tail. A later 8-inch version swims more like a tuna, whose movement is focused in the tail and the section where the tail meets the body.

The current prototypes are much slower than real fish. They require 2.5 to 5 watts of power, now from an external source. Internal batteries are planned.

The robot fry follow other creatures in MIT's mechatronic bestiary--Charlie the Robotuna, created in 1994 and consisting of nearly 3,000 parts, and Finnegan the robot turtle, a study in biomimetic propulsion from 2004.

MIT also plans to create prototypes of robotic salamanders and manta rays.

But what I really want to see is Chef Robot, a robot sushi chef, go to town on these fish!

Featured Video
This content is rated TV-MA, and is for viewers 18 years or older. Are you of age?
Sorry, you are not old enough to view this content.

iPhone 6S chip controversy over battery life

Not all new iPhones have the same processor chip, but Apple says differences in performance are minimal. Apple also pulls ad-blocking apps over privacy concerns, and Netflix raises its price again.

by Bridget Carey