MIT engineers have developed a cheap, compact robotic fish that can go where no man (or underwater vehicle) has been able to go before. The pint-sized robofish, developed by Kamal Youcuf-Toumi and Pablo Valdivia y Alvarado, could potentially be used to detect underwater environmental pollutants and inspect submerged boats and oil and gas pipes. Another plus is that they don’t smell.
The new MIT robofish is far from the first robotic fish–MIT’s four foot long Robotuna, built in 1994, had 2,843 parts and six motors. Youcuf-Toumi and Valdivida y Alvarado’s fish is less than a foot long, contains only 10 parts, and has a single motor. Since the new fish uses fewer parts, it’s cheaper to build. And that means there is minimal risk if a robofish gets stuck or destroyed in an underwater structure.
The University of Essex also recently designed a robofish, but it uses rigid components to mimic the normal motions of fish. In comparison, the MIT design uses polymers that stiffen the tuna-like robofish only in specified areas–an ability that adds to the fish’s speed and maneuverability.
The robofish require 2.5 to 5 watts of power from an external source, but scientists hope that one day the fish could be powered with an external battery. Next up for the robot masterminds at MIT: building robotic salamanders and manta rays.