Scientists have developed a new type of robotic animal that may provide insights that aren't possible for a human being to obtain. MIT developed a robotic fish called the SoFi, which stands for soft robotic fish. It will be able to obtain information from fish that have previously been spooked by a human presence.
If it swims and looks like a fish, it might be a SoFi.
SoFi was created at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). It has built-in cameras that allow scientists to get a glimpse of a world that they previously haven't been able to achieve. Despite being the most prominent robotic fish at the moment, it is not the first robotic fish of its kind.
SoFi is 1.5 feet long and is made from molded and 3D printed plastics. In order to swim, it has a buoyancy tank that contains compressed air. This makes it easier to be programmed to stay at different depths depending on the needs of the researchers. SoFi can also be given instructions that allow it to swim semi-autonomously, but a person will still have to steer the controls if they want it to change directions.
SoFi can swim up to 9 inches per second and at depths up to 60 feet below the surface. Its battery doesn't last too long at the moment, only 45 minutes of battery life. What sets SoFi apart from other robotic fish is the way it is able to mimic the movement of a real fish.
Achieving Good Imitation
SoFi began as a silicon tail that was powered by a hydraulic pump. Those on the team were surprised at how well the tail was able to simulate the swimming motion of a real fish. Even though they were able to simulate the swimming motion well, they also had a lot of work before SoFi would be ready for its first swim test.
SoFi would need waterproofing, buoyancy control, and a camera to record its findings. It took a couple of years before the finished product was established. This version of SoFi included a camera, a two-way hydrophone, environmental sensors, and a communication system that was powered by a Super Nintendo controller.
A paper regarding the construction of SoFi was released in the journal Science Robotics. Its first swim was in a coral reef off the coast of Fiji. It was able to swim in all three dimensions. Researchers say that the transmissions sent by the handler to SoFi can't be heard by the fish, but it is possible that some whales or dolphins could hear them.