MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory(CSAIL),a research institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has brought forth, in their attempts at improving our contact with marine life, a robotic fish explorer, SoFi
SoFi, directed with the help of a Super Nintendo controller paired with acoustic signals, has been engineered to help researchers explore marine life more freely in depth and help us get closer to the expansive ecosystem that blooms beyond what our naked eyes can perceive.
How SoFi Works
SoFi is essentially a soft robotic fish structure that consists of a controller, Raspberry Pi and HiFi Berry, sealed inside a water proof silicone membrane that has been cast moulded. The membrane is also filled with a mineral oil that is non conductive, and allows for equalization underwater.
The Raspberry Pi receives input from controller, after which ultrasound signals are amplified for SoFi through the HiFi Berry. These amplified ultrasound signals, which are interpreted by a modem embedded within SoFi's head, controls everything from directing tail movement, pitch and depth, to the on-board camera.
The robot swims via a system whereby a motor pumps water into two balloon like chambers located in its tail region, that operate a set of pistons in an engine. The expansion of a chamber causes it to bend and flex to one side and when the water is pushed to the other side, the other chamber too bends and flexes in the opposite direction. This repeated process facilitates smooth and natural movement, allowing the robot to swim with ease alongside shoals of real fish.
Why SoFi Is Special
Deep sea exploration, for researchers, has always been a problem with many problems of its own. As of late, most of the studying and observation of marine life, has been with the help of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles.But these AUVs are bulky, expensive and require large motors or support boats to help them function.
Comparatively, SoFi is simple, with a lightweight setup comprising of only a motor, a single camera and a smartphone lithium polymer battery.
SoFi is the first robotic fish that can swim freely for extended periods of time, requiring no major monitoring as such. The amazing little robot can go as deep as 18 feet for upto 40 minutes at a stretch.
Studying marine life as it exists has always been difficult, as any attempts to observe them usually results in the creatures scattering. Built to look and move as smoothly as a live fish, SoFi can move along with various inhabitants of the sea without spooking them. This is what really makes the engineering of SoFi so magical the robotic fish provides researchers with a much awaited chance to observe marine creatures in their natural state, and how they go about their lives.
With a a body that looks exactly like a real fish and built in cameras that let researchers observe everything SoFi comes in vicinity of, this fish is all set to revolutionize the way we collect data about and learn from marine life.