MIT builds robot fish

Cambridge, MA – An MIT team has built a school of robo-fish designed for areas where traditional underwater autonomous vehicles can’t go.

Fleets of the new robots could be used to inspect submerged structures such as boats and oil and gas pipes; patrol ports, lakes and rivers; and help detect environmental pollutants.

“Given the [robotic] fish’s robustness, it would be ideal as a long-term sensing and exploration unit. Several of these could be deployed, and even if only a small percentage make it back there wouldn’t be a terrible capital loss,” says MIT’s Valdivia Y Alvarado.

Robotic fish aren’t new, but have always been elaborate and expensive to build. The new MIT version, less than a foot long, is powered by a single motor and has fewer than 10 components, including a flexible body.

It’s also more durable than older models, with several four-year-old prototypes still functioning.

Current models require 2.5 to 5W of power, depending on size. Right now, that’s coming from an external source, but in future the researchers hope to use a small internal battery. Later this fall, they plan to try more complex locomotion and test prototype robotic salamanders and manta rays.

“The fish were a proof of concept application, but we are hoping to apply this idea to other forms of locomotion, so the methodology will be useful for mobile robotics research – land, air and underwater – as well,” said Alvarado.

You can watch the fish doing their stuff here.