MIT researchers created a robotic fish to facilitate ocean exploration. The new robot can also be a pioneer in biomimetics. Close view of SoFi swimming. (Image via MIT)


Mankind has explored many areas of the planet Earth to the point that it could feel as if everything that exists has been discovered. Now, there is a race to explore other planets and galaxies, and that alone spikes a lot of conversations and theories. However, there is a place on planet Earth that still holds a lot of mysteries, a part of the planet that can reshape continents and countries: the oceans. It probably sounds unbelievable that humans have not discovered everything about the oceans yet. To be precise, only five percent of the oceans has been mapped, and one would think that since oceans represent 70 percent of the surface of the planet, humans should get to know them as much as possible. It is an illusion to think that because we have been navigating the oceans for centuries, we have them figured out. The challenge resides in the technology to use for that exploration.


First, after 200 meters, it becomes hard for humans or machines to see anything. In addition, the pressure of the water increases the deeper one goes. To top it off, oceans are so vast that it is estimated that 99 percent of livable space is under the oceans. So how to overcome these challenges. Probably by focusing more on developing the right kind of technology. And, that must be the goal of MIT researchers when they created SoFi, the Soft robotic Fish.


The researchers explained that they created SoFi because they realized that overfishing was decreasing the population of fish they thought they had to do something to study the ocean life while there is still time. Not the motivation one may expect, but it is still somewhat noble. The truth is that it can be difficult for humans to observe fish, so the scientists imagined that they should let another fish, even a fake one, do the observing for them. Joseph DelPreto, one of the authors of the robot, explained that the robot was designed in a way that it would not obstruct or disturb the natural habitat and the habits of the real fishes.


Contrary to many of the robots, mankind has sent in the oceans as explorers, SoFi is not just a machine. Inspired by tuna, jellyfish and lobster, SoFi can swim like a fish by sweeping its tail left and right. And, the fact that the skin of the robot is made of silicon elastomer surely facilitate the movement. The movement of the tail is controlled by a hydraulic mechanism and allows the robot to swim at various depths. SoFi’s head carries a Linus PC along with a camera that serves as its eyes. Even though the robotic fish is quite independent, there is still a remote that allows a diver to control the fish when necessary using ultrasonic signals to communicate with SoFi. But SoFi is not famous just for its design.


The technology that allows SoFi to behave like a real fish is called biomimetics and SoFi is the very first finished product of such science. In other words, while SoFi will be helping marine biologists study the oceans, it could inspire scientists in other areas of robotics as well. Therefore, opening doors that were closed so far.



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