Dubbed SoFi, the robot can operate at multiple depths, swim in a straight line, turn, dive, and even maneuver its way underneath corals.
To better study marine life, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created a soft robotic fish that they say can “independently” swim next to real ones in the ocean while capturing high-resolution photos and videos.
Dubbed SoFi, the robot swims by undulating its flexible silicone tail with the help of a hydraulic pump, according to an MIT news release. It can operate at multiple depths, swim in a straight line, turn, dive, and even maneuver its way underneath corals.
Alongside the fish itself, the researchers created a custom acoustic communications system, which allows a diver to control the robot using a waterproof Super Nintendo controller. By pressing buttons on the controller, the diver can get the robot to go faster or slower as well as “make specific moves and turns.”
The researchers tested the system in Figi’s Rainbow Reef and said the robotic fish swam at depths of more than 50 feet for up to 40 minutes. To see SoFi in action, check out the video below.
“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 an article about SoFi that was published 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 hope is that SoFi will allow marine biologists to more closely explore reef systems than current methods allow. Going forward, the team wants to improve SoFi’s pump system, as well as its body and tail design, to help it swim faster. They also plan to leverage the robot’s built-in camera to give it the ability to automatically follow real fish.
“We view SoFi as a first step toward developing almost an underwater observatory of sorts,” CSAIL director Daniela Rus said in a statement. “It has the potential to be a new type of tool for ocean exploration and to open up new avenues for uncovering the mysteries of marine life.”