Computer scientists at MIT have unveiled a new, soft robot fish that can independently swim alongside real fish in the ocean. They call their robot fish SoFi and described the work in an article published March 21, 2018, in the peer-reviewed journal Science Robotics. The article is online here. A statement from MIT said:
During test dives in the Rainbow Reef in Fiji, SoFi swam at depths of more than 50 feet [15 meters] for up to 40 minutes at once, nimbly handling currents and taking high-resolution photos and videos using (what else?) a fisheye lens.
Using its undulating tail and a unique ability to control its own buoyancy, SoFi can swim in a straight line, turn, or dive up or down. The team also used a waterproofed Super Nintendo controller and developed a custom acoustic communications system that enabled them to change SoFi’s speed and have it make specific moves and turns.
To our knowledge, this is the first robotic fish that can swim untethered in three dimensions for extended periods of time.
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 research team pointed out that, even with many technological advances in recent years, documenting marine life up close remains a challenging task. They pointed to recent rare footage of an elusive Greenland shark that can live more than 400 years. It revealed how little we know about life in the coldest oceans, and in the oceans in general.
These scientists hope that SoFI can help shed light on the ocean’s mysteries.
Bottom line: MIT computer scientists have developed SoFi – a soft, robot fish made of silicone rubber – that can swim alongside real fish in the ocean.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.