Soft Robots Mimic Aquatic Animals
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) released its first soft robotic fish named SoFi, that had the ability to observe underwater animals in close proximity. Additionally, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley collaboratively created their first transparent eel-like soft robot, that had the ability to aid many underwater exploratory missions.
By swimming deep in oceans and seas, SoFi could take high-resolution pictures and videos of the marine life in a manner that could not have been accomplished by humans. Unlike previous underwater robots, SoFi is delicate, and shaped like fishes. It moves in an analogous style, preventing it from scaring the marine life away. SoFi synthesizes with its environment by producing minimal noise and using ultrasonic emissions to communicate with the controller. SoFi manages to swim alongside schools of fish by mimicking their behavior. By copying the movement of a real fish’s tail, SoFi controls its flow patterns, allowing it to swim at varying speeds and directions.
SoFi is also unique for the reason that is a ‘soft’ robotic fish; since it was created using silicone rubber and malleable plastic. SoFi is extremely lightweight since it only contains a single camera, motor, and a lithium polymer battery - similar to the ones found in commercial smartphones. SoFi is controlled by a waterproof Super Nintendo Controller, which is held by a diver who remains about 30 ft away. The diver uses a miniaturized acoustic communication module to send commands that controlled factors such as its speed and turning angle.
Like the SoFi, the robotic eel also swam alongside marine animals without causing disruption. However, the eel made use of its soft artificial muscles that contain positive charges simultaneously as the robot itself released negative charges into its surroundings that in turn activate the muscle like structures. Due to its dependency on electrical currents, the device was only able to function in salt water. The eel’s transparent body was filled with a fluorescent dye that may be used as signals in the future. Unlike previous soft robots, the eel is not made of a material that needs to be held in constant tension inside semi-rigid frames, allowing it to be even more lightweight than its counterparts. Another major difference between the eel and SoFi is the fact that the eel does not contain cameras, even though that is a goal for the future.
Whether it is a robotic fish or eel, the recent innovations are the first steps towards gaining new insights in marine biology. Researchers can surely make use of the information collected by these robots (in a manner that is vastly different from previous innovations), to continue to learn more about the life that thrives in the depths of the sea.
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