Robofish and microchips - August 25, 2009
Robotic fish – probably the best small robotic fish you’ve ever seen – have been made by clever engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You can even see a video of them doing their thing.
The fish, about 30 cm long, are ancestors of robotuna – a giant autonomous robotic fish also made at MIT in the 1990s.
The difference is that these fish are much simpler – they are small and powered by a single motor, unlike robotuna’s six motors, and made from just 10 parts. All these parts are encapsulated in a flexible rubber casing that is moved by a motor sending a wave along the body. They're small size will apparently make them more able to swim into small crevices.
And they can certainly swim well. I’m just a bit concerned about how useful they are. They're being developed apparently to go places where other autonomous robotic fish can’t go. Maybe I’m way out of touch, but I wasn’t aware that this was a major problem.
"The fish were a proof of concept application, but we are hoping to apply this idea to other forms of locomotion, so the methodology will be useful for mobile robotics research - land, air and underwater - as well," said Valdivia Y Alvarado, whose PhD thesis was devoted to the little robotic critters (press release).
But wait a minute, my scepticism may be short lived. I am behind the times after all. Only in March this year, a robotic carp was unveiled by researchers at Essex University, UK. Five of the monstrous 1.5 metre-long robotic carp are scheduled to be released into Spanish waters, equipped with chemical sensors to sniff out pollution.
The MIT group claims that fleets of their robofish could be deployed to inspect pipelines, lakes, rivers and boats. Whatever they’re used for, you can’t escape the fact that robo fish are actually quite cool. Maybe they’ll become the next rubber duckie.