Monday, March 26, 2018

MIT Makes Waves with its Soft Robotic Fish: SoFi

Article Written By: Juliana Zadarko


Robert Katzschmann et al. (Photo: Joseph DelPreto), MIT CSAIL

Human presence affects animal behaviour research; studies in animals such as fish are influenced by human proximity as it often creates feelings of fear or curiosity in the subjects. Through the creation of SoFi, a name short for soft robotic fish, MIT has developed the robotic solution required for the observation of natural marine life.

SoFi is remarkably similar in size and behaviour to the live fish it follows. As a result, it is able to blend in and create minimal disruptions in marine observation at a close range. Moreover, The MIT team (consisting of Robert K. Katzschmann, Joseph DelPreto, Robert MacCurdy, and Professor Daniela Rus) has ensured SoFi is self-contained and functional as a research tool.

As most divers typically spend less than an hour underwater, a diver is able to control Sofi through ultrasonic communication for up to 40 minutes. The maximum speed of 21.7 centimeters per second is achieved by alternating propulsions in the tail as it is pumped oil. Due to the dive planes and displacement buoyancy control system, dives have reached over 18 meters deep.

Sofi was tested for 240 minutes over 6 dives in the coral reef environments found in Fiji. Although more testing will be held to determine any impact, immediate observations conclude that the robotic fish did not appear to disturb the marine life. With further understanding of this new technology, researchers hope to implement schools of Sofis to gain more insight on larger underwater ecosystems.

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