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Soft 3D printed robotic fish will swim and collect data. (via MIT)


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently revealed its autonomous soft robot – the fish, which is intended to eventually follow around schools of fish to collect data about the underwater world. (Not related to this fish, also used for study)

 

The fish was built by MIT graduate student Andrew Marchese, who used 3D printing technology to create the robot mold and silicone rubber body. Marchese claims the fish can change direction almost as fast as a real fish and because of its soft mold, does not pose a threat to unsuspecting swimmers. There are a few reasons for the soft design. For one thing, a soft robot is much less likely to cause serious damage to people or animals it runs into, compared to its tough, metal counterpart. With this, a soft robot can have a wide variety of different configurations due to its flexibility and Marchese believes the soft design of the fish is actually responsible for its striking similarities to the real thing.

 

The fish’s body houses electronics and a carbon dioxide tank, while the tail is based on a long, tight channel that moves in a wavelike fashion. As carbon dioxide is released from the canister, the tail moves back and forth, like a real fish. The fish also has two control parameters – one in the nozzle that releases gas and another that gauges how long the canister nozzle was left open.

 

The fish is able to change directions as sharp as 100 degrees, depending on the duration of inflation and the robot’s speed is dependent on the nozzle diameter, a decoupling behavior exhibited by real fish. MIT professor and one of the researchers who designed and built the fish Daniela Rus said that there’s an interesting relationship between bioengineering and nature and thinks developing these scientific mechanisms may reveal to us nature’s secrets.

 

The lifelike fish is powered by the carbon dioxide canister housed in its abdomen and can run between 20-30 escape maneuvers before needed to be refueled. The researchers are looking for a way to swap out carbon dioxide for a water pump system that could allow the fish to swim with schools for up to 30 minutes to gather data about their true behavior in the wild.

 

This promising soft robot follows a joint project developed between MIT, Harvard and Seoul National University researchers, who developed a soft autonomous robot similar to an earthworm that could crawl along surfaces by contracting its body and was durable enough to withstand being stepped on and smashed with a hammer.


Soft robotics is gaining popularity because of its durability and lifelike function. There is now a Soft Robotics journal and it seems this field will continue to expand and offer a new way to study the world as we know it.

 

Goldie doesn't like posers.

 

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