Fishing Robot Style


Red Fish, Blue Fish, One Fish, Robot Fish – that is how Dr. Seuss is read at MIT.  Unlike land-based robots, MIT’s flexible aquatic craniate is a “soft robot” that is “powered by fluid flowing through flexible channels” mimicking gills.  This self contained power system, requires no recharging or even traditional batteries, so it potentially could swim long distances (as long as you follow Mr. Carp’s sage advice, “Never feed him a lot. Never more than a spot! Or something may happen. You never know what).

“We’re excited about soft robots for a variety of reasons,” Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

“As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it’s much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there’s no danger if they whack you.”  Some of the robot’s interactions in the human world include bumping into objects. That can be a problem for traditional robots, but not always for soft robots. “In some cases, it is actually advantageous for these robots to bump into the environment, because they can use these points of contact as means of getting to the destination faster,” Rus said.

Designed by MIT graduate student Andrew Marchese, the fish looks simple, but it’s mechanics are hardly so. “Each side of the fish’s tail is bored through with a long, tightly undulating channel. Carbon dioxide released from a canister in the fish’s abdomen causes the channel to inflate, bending the tail in the opposite direction. Each half of the fish tail has just two control parameters: the diameter of the nozzle that releases gas into the channel and the amount of time it’s left open.”

For now, the fish can perform between 20 and 30 escape maneuvers, or directional changes, before it runs out of the carbon dioxide that it relies on to function. Simple one-directional swimming exhausts the supply even faster. “The fish was designed to explore performance capabilities, not long-term operation,” Marchese said. “Next steps for future research are taking that system and building something that’s compromised on performance a little bit but increases longevity.”

As Marchese improves his design, eventually his aquatic life will have to go free like Willy into the ocean entering a new sphere of contained robotics.  By just adding machine learning capabilities, these fish could learn from the live counterparts and create “school like behaviors” to explore the depths of the ocean further and deeper than ever imagined by Jacques Cousteau.

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: Oliver Mitchell

Oliver Mitchell is a seasoned entrepreneur and business executive with more than 20 years of marketing / operating experience. Previously, he was the Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of RobotGalaxy, a retail entertainment brand that he founded in 2006.

As father of five, Oliver launched RobotGalaxy to fill a personal need: he wanted a wholesome activity for his son. Today, RobotGalaxy’s patented toys are available nationally at Toys’R’Us, Nordstrom Department Stores, and online with a growing virtual world and library of mobile apps.

Before RobotGalaxy, Oliver was involved in a number of successful technology ventures and real estate developments. Oliver was part of the executive team of Softcom/IVT, an interactive video startup backed by Allen & Co., Intel Capital (NASDAQ:INTC) and Sun Microsystems. At IVT, Oliver was instrumental in expanding the market for their products with such leading broadcasters as HBO, Showtime, and Home Shopping Network.

Prior to IVT, Oliver was a founding member of AmeriCash, Inc., a network of ATMs in high traffic retail locations. AmeriCash was acquired by American Express (NYSE:AXP) within 32 months of operations. Oliver was also instrumental in the development of Holmes Protection and its sale to ADT/Tyco International (NYSE:TYC). Oliver has extensive background in merchant banking and advertising. He started his career at Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners.

Oliver holds 14 patents and has appeared on numerous television shows, including: The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Fox Business News, The Today Show, and Rachel Ray. He also serves as a mentor on the Entrepreneur Roundtable Accelerator Fund, and advises many technology companies on their growth strategies.

Oliver is also the publisher of the well-known robotics blog Robot Rabbi and is in the midst of writing a book entitled, “An Innovator’s Field Guide: Taking Ideas From Zero to Hero.”

You are seconds away from signing up for the hottest list in New York Tech!

Join the millions and keep up with the stories shaping entrepreneurship. Sign up today.