Robot Fish From MIT Swim Like The Real Thing, Escape Predators In An Instant [VIDEO]

on March 14, 2014 6:06 PM EDT

robot fish
MIT's soft robot fish can change directions incredibly rapidly, like a real fish does to avoid predators. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

MIT unveiled a robotic fish this week, a soft, silicone machine that can move autonomously through water. In the new journal Soft Robotics, MIT researchers describe the robot's ability to execute escape maneuvers like a real fish, turning 100 degrees in as many milliseconds, with the help of a carbon dioxide canister and a heap of machinery in the "brains" of the fish. The robot may eventually be used to swim in real fish colonies in order to gather data on their behavior.

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"Because of their body's capability to bend and twist, these robots are capable of very compliant motion, and they are also capable of very rapid, agile maneuvers, which pushes the envelope on what machines can do today," says MIT researcher Daniela Rus in the video below.

The inside of the fish is made up of control units in the head, a carbon dioxide canister in the head and abdomen and tubes which go from the CO2 canister to the tail. Changes in the level of CO2 determine how fast the fish moves, and the amount the tubes inflate changes the fish's angle. The soft robot can be directed by an operator via a wireless receiver in the fish's head. Silicone rubber (waterproof, of course) covers the outside of the fish.

Soft robots can offer several advantages over so-called hard robots (think of pretty much every other robot you've ever seen). Most robots prioritize avoiding collisions--they don't want to be damaged or fall over--which means that they may take an inefficient path to get where they're going. But soft robots can withstand collision, and may even benefit from knocking into something.

"In some cases, it is actually advantageous for these robots to bump into the environment, because they can use these points of contact as means of getting to the destination faster," says Rus. "The fact that the body deforms continuously gives these machines an infinite range of configurations, and this is not achievable with machines that are hinged."

Last year, Rus and her colleagues showed off another incredible robotics project made up of colored blocks that spin and build themselves into modular machines. These building-block robots have to be seen to truly understood, so check them out.

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