Robot fish

MIT researchers are designing a school small robotic fish that could be used to explore underwater spots difficult for humans to reach. For example, they could act as remote sensors, traveling through oil pipes or shipwrecks, or collecting environmental data. The 5 to 8-inch long prototypes, made from soft polymers, mimic real fish that swim by tensing and relaxing muscles to produce a vibration in their bodies. From MIT News Office:
"With these polymers, you can specify stiffness in different sections, rather than building a robot with discrete sections," says (mechanical engineering professor Kamal) Youcef-Toumi. "This philosophy can be used for more than just fish" - for example, in robotic prosthetic limbs... Later this fall, the researchers plan to expand their research to more complex locomotion and test some new prototype robotic salamanders and manta rays. "The fish were a proof of concept application, but we are hoping to apply this idea to other forms of locomotion, so the methodology will be useful for mobile robotics research - land, air and underwater - as well," said (grad student Pablo) Valdivia Y Alvarado.
"Robots swim with the fishes"


  1. Pretty neat but I’ve seen versions of this thing around for long enough to believe that robotic fish, like robots who fly by flapping their wings, are not likely to find many real-world applications any time soon.

    Successfully mimicking the mechanisms of animal locomotion may be an impressive achievement of engineering but it is rarely a practical one. That’s why we still use wheels and propellers instead of AT-ATs and ornithopters.

  2. Thanks Ito, those videos may be the best example of “totally awesome meets completely impractical” that I’ve ever seen.

    Maybe these robot fish may find a similar purpose as an art installation.

  3. I have no idea why people are claiming this is impractical. It’s vastly more efficient than propellers, and the whole point of this particular swimming fish is that it’s simple enough to actually manufacture cheaply and in bulk. That swimming motion is accomplished with a single motor. It’s not supposed to be the BEST possible robotic fish, but it’s supposed to be effective.

    I’m really confused about why people don’t see the usefulness here. Being able to have a low-power, long-lived autonomous swimming robot is clearly useful for monitoring pretty much anything in the ocean. That’s a lot of pretty important things.

  4. OK Chrs, maybe I rushed to judgment based on the earlier robot fish I’ve seen. Time will tell if this model has what it takes to make it out of the lab.

  5. I’m hopeful! David doesn’t really point out why this fish is special, which is the ridiculous simplicity (relative to earlier robofish at least) of the design.

  6. Does anyone know if Jeremijenko has progressed any further with her Feral Robotic Dog projects?

    They may not be able to swim, but they are serious cool.

  7. robot swarms are already happening (in serious research at least), a robot fish school linked together would be very interesting, and useful.

  8. Day Vexx: “…some sort of “being eaten avoidance system” for these things…”

    First thing that came to my mind. Hope the polymer “flesh” has a “smells bad, tastes worse” (to fish) quality mixed in.

  9. I, too, am worried about this project harming predatory fish. I think it is a bad idea to release these into the oceans. Just another example of “because we can” instead of “should we?”.

  10. Their not as good as the essex univ robofish on youtube, but…why don’t they make robokiller whales to guard the beaches from sharks?

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