Nov 29, 2022
This little robot fish is 40 centimeters long and is made of a soft, rubber-like material.
It's propelled by a dual-function fluid that is pulsated through the body of the fish through a simple circulatory mechanism – similar to blood (and otherwise described as "robot blood").
The big innovation
The innovation surrounding this fish is its complete lack of an isolated battery unit.
Integrating the battery function into the body of the robot has the advantage of cutting down on weight, while also augmenting maneuverability. Ultimately, the movement of the liquid helps propel the fish and retain buoyancy, as contrasted with a simple battery, which would merely restrain movement.
The engineers responsible for developing this system call it an electrolytic vascular system for energy-dense robots, and they state that this system brings the creature closer to its living counterparts:
“Modern robots lack the multifunctional interconnected systems found in living organisms and are consequently unable to reproduce their efficiency and autonomy. Energy-storage systems are among the most crucial limitations to robot autonomy, but their size, weight, material and design constraints can be re-examined in the context of multifunctional, bio-inspired applications.”
Toward robotic autonomy
The ultimate goal of the team is to have something close to a self-generating energy source, which would operate through the mimicry of a living beings’ circulatory structure.
While the brain was by no means brought back to consciousness, it did bear living characteristics. This was done by connecting the brain's vascular system to a pump-like apparatus, which synthetically mirrors the natural circulation of blood while using a specially developed solution to preserve brain tissue.
What is the point of a robotic fish?
In the case of this robotic fish, movement is quite slow. The fish is less designed for a specific functionality than as an engineering step toward better robotic autonomy.
However, with such vascular innovations, more functional robotic fish like SoFi may be given the extra push they need for true exploratory utility. SoFi was developed by scientists to help with underwater research. The robo-fish can swim alongside real fish to give new insights into life under the sea.
The robotic fish named SoFi was developed by MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and can be controlled with sound.
SoFi swims by flapping its hydraulic-pump powered tail, back and forth. The clever robot can also control its own buoyancy through adjusting an internal foam material.
During test dives in the Rainbow Reef in Fiji, SoFi was able to swim down 15 meters for around 40 minutes at a time.
As the SoFi team goes on to state, “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.” SoFi is able to swim close to real fish because it propels themselves forward with a method that mimics the movements of real fish.
Further, like the blood circulating robot, SoFi’s soft body means the researchers can put it into more complex environments without the worry of major damage being sustained.
In the future, one can easily imagine how collaborative research efforts between these developments could truly produce something beyond our current imagination.