Long gone are the days when a “robotic movement” meant something jerky, awkward, and stiff: The new robo-fish that have just been unveiled by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology swim through the water with sinuous grace. The flexible fish move naturally, as the 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 [CNET]. The robo-fish are the descendants of Charlie the Robotuna, a large robot created at MIT in the 1990s that consisted of almost 3,000 parts. The new fish measure less than a foot long and use only 10 parts; researchers say the simple, durable fish are cheap to produce and hard to damage. To manufacture each robot, a single motor is placed in a fish-shaped mold before a liquid polymer is poured in and allowed to solidify. The continuous polymer casing prevents water from seeping in and damaging the motor, says Pablo Alvarado, an engineer who helped design the fish. “These materials are very resilient,” he said. “Water can’t do much to them and they can survive very high temperatures. Unless another fish eats them, they could go on and on” [Wired.com].
The researchers say the small fish will be able to go where bulkier underwater robots fear to tread. Only in March this year, a robotic carp was unveiled by researchers at Essex University, UK. Five of the monstrous 1.5 metre-long robotic carp are scheduled to be released into Spanish waters, equipped with chemical sensors to sniff out pollution. The MIT group claims that fleets of their robofish could be deployed to inspect pipelines, lakes, rivers and boats [Nature, blog].
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Video: Kamal Youcef-Toumi and Pablo Valdivia Y Alvarado/MIT News Office