A 3-D printed head full of electronics, flexible plastic, silicone rubber, a camera, a motor, and a lithium polymer battery like the one found in smartphones all help this lightweight robotic fish explore the ocean for us like a real fish. MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) built the SoFi (Soft Fish) robot to swim independently for long periods of time. It’s also relatively quiet so as not to disturb marine life during its observational excursions. From MIT:
To make the robot swim, the motor pumps water into two balloon-like chambers in the fish’s tail that operate like a set of pistons in an engine. As one chamber expands, it bends and flexes to one side; when the actuators push water to the other channel, that one bends and flexes in the other direction.
These alternating actions create a side-to-side motion that mimics the movement of a real fish. By changing its flow patterns, the hydraulic system enables different tail maneuvers that result in a range of swimming speeds, with an average speed of about half a body length per second.
Bonus: The waterproofed Super Nintendo controller that lets accompanying divers control the fish underwater.
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“We view SoFi as a first step toward developing almost an underwater observatory of sorts,” says [CSAIL director Daniela] Rus. “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.”