Meet SoFi: The Most Advanced Robotic Fish of Its Kind
May 22, 2018
A robotic fish is on the way to get hands on all the secrets of the marine animals without causing any disturbance to their natural habitat.
Yes, we’re talking about SoFi – an underwater robotic fish – particular an advanced underwater device of its kind. Built by the scientists at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), this robotic fish is all set to study the secrets of the marine line.
It was designed to swim alongside real fish, spying on them and studying their natural habitat a tad more without raising any suspicions or disturbing them.
While scuba-diving humans were already doing their best to study the marine life and the sea creatures but there was only so much they could do it. It was difficult for them to blend in with the other marine animals, making it hard to observe some creatures up-close.
On the other hand, SoFi can perform this job well as it mimics a real fish, swimming around with other animals, not letting them become suspicious with its movements and not causing them any disturbance. The researchers wanted to develop a device which could move with the other sea creatures and conserve the marine life they were trying to observe.
SoFi, the shorter word for Soft Robotic Fish, has a length of 18.5 inches from snout to tail and weighs about 3.5 pounds. It has the ability to dive into 60 feet underwater and can swim for up to 40 minutes. The exploration time was observed by the researchers when it took the device for a test swim in Fiji’s Rainbow Reef.
The exterior of the one-eyed robotic fish is made of silicone rubber, flexible plastic, and 3D-printed pieces. With the custom-made sound communication technology, it receives movement instructions.
How Does Robotic Fish Work?
SoFi is a one-eyed device, which basically counts as a camera to record the behaviors and actions of the marine life surrounding it. Researchers also believe that one day this device could help them monitor the health of marine animals without stressing them out.
It comes with a motor-powered plump tail, that swishes from side to side, mimicking the movements and swimming patterns of the real fish. Its built-in sensors prevent it from hitting or damaging marine surroundings such as delicate reefs.
So does this robotic fish swim on its own? The answer is no. Not yet. The technology behind this robotic fish hasn’t been taken to an extent where it becomes fully autonomous. For now, the movements of this robotic fish are directed by a diver – a person who operates it with the help of a waterproofed Super Nintendo remote controller while being up to 32 feet away from it.
Rus, one of the researchers working behind this faux fish at MIT, said that the most challenging part of the design process was giving the device buoyancy control – which could allow it to effectively move up and down in the water.
Has it Been Helpful So far?
Yes, SoFi has been helpful in its mission so far. The disguise did work to some extent. Real fish were fooled into thinking SoFi was just another fish swimming around alongside them.
The MIT researchers have been discreetly working on underwater image and recoding system for over seven years now but this is the first of its kind project that successfully attempts to mimic not only the appearance but the movements of real fish so convincingly. The robot interloper has been able to record the video, thanks to its angled camera but the researchers are also planning to include other sensors in it, such as thermometers. This sensor could help them know the exact temperature underwater.
The team of researchers intends to make SoFi even smarter in near future so it can make decisions on its own – without the involvement of any human diver – and move underwater along with the marine animals peacefully. The team also plans to move around the group of coordinated robot fish under the water in an attempt to record the marine life in a better and effective way.
This tech-filled research can help biologists collect data and observe more about the ocean life and the impacts of climate change on its natural habitat.