Researchers hoping to photograph and film some of the oceans’ more elusive creatures have invented a swimming robot fish.
SoFi, created by a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), is made of silicone rubber and can take high-resolution photos and videos using a fisheye lens.
The design of SoFi’s tail and side fins enable it to swim in straight line, turn, or dive up or down and it is directed using a Super Nintendo controller. Elements of SoFi are 3D printed and powered by a battery similar to those found in a smartphone.
The team tested SoFi in the Rainbow Reef in Fiji, piloting it to depths of more than 50 feet for more than 40 minutes at a time. The researchers found that fish appeared to be unperturbed by their robotic neighbour, presenting a chance to approach shy ocean wildlife that humans could not get close to.
“To our knowledge, this is the first robotic fish that can swim untethered in three dimensions for extended periods of time,” said CSAIL PhD candidate Robert Katzschmann, lead author of a journal article published on Wednesday in Science Robotics.
“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.”
The robot may be impressive, but the team are far from finished. They plan to increase the fish’s speed and give it the ability to track individual fish.