Meet SoFi The Robotic Fish "Spy"

By

CCSS NAS-3
The Soft Robotic Fish ( Photo Credit: MIT.Edu)

With climate change and overfishing wreaking havoc on our oceans, it is becoming increasingly important for researchers to closely monitor our marine life. However, observing sea creatures up close is almost impossible since human presence scares the animals. Now, thanks to The Soft Robotic Fish, aka SoFi, researchers may not only be able to keep a close eye on the elusive creatures, but also uncover undersea secrets that have been eluding us for centuries.

Built by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), the snow white remote-controlled robot closely emulates real fish, complete with a flexible tail that flicks from side to side and two “fins.” Though not the first autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) created to monitor the oceans, SoFi resolves many of the issues that have hindered the usefulness of previous robots.

SoFi taking images of coral reefs (Photo Credit: MIT.edu)

AUV’s traditionally have had to be tethered to a boat because radio frequency communications do not work well underwater. To overcome the hurdle, CSAIL director Daniela Rus and her team used sound waves. The ultrasonic technology can travel greater distances allowing drivers, using a modified, waterproofed Super Nintendo controller, to pilot SoFi from up to 50 feet away. To ensure SoFi can freely move around the ocean and maneuver like a real fish, a hydraulic pump seamlessly transfers water from one balloon-like structure to the other through its soft rubber tail, while a controller fitted with a smartphone lithium polymer battery powers the robot through the ocean, unhindered by tethers or propellers. CSAIL Ph.D. candidate Robert Katzschmann, lead author of the study published in Science Robotics on March 12, says, “To our knowledge, this is the first robotic fish that can swim untethered in three dimensions for extended periods of time.”

Also limiting traditional AUV usefulness is the risk of collision. With an exterior made of silicone rubber and flexible plastic that keeps its inbuilt electronics dry, SoFi poses no such danger. “Collision avoidance often leads to inefficient motion, since the robot has to settle for a collision-free trajectory,” says Rus. “In contrast, a soft robot is not just more likely to survive a collision but could use it as information to inform a more efficient motion plan next time around.”

SoFi is remote-controlled by scuba diver (Photo Credit: MIT.Edu)

During test dives in Fiji’s Rainbow Reef, SoFi glided alongside the unsuspecting marine life at depths of 50 feet for up to 40 minutes at a time, capturing high-resolution photos and videos. Even more important, it was able to do so without causing any disturbance. The researchers say sometimes the fish would swim alongside the strange-looking robo-fish in curiosity, while at other times they appeared utterly oblivious of its existence.

While SoFi currently only records video, future versions will include sensors such as thermometers. The researchers also hope to make it more autonomous and envision a day when swarms of the soft robots, powered by solar cells, will follow fish around, allowing scientists to gain insights into schooling dynamics and monitor their population. “For us, this fish is magical," says Rus. "We imagine someday it might help us uncover more mysteries from the amazing underwater world that we know so little about."

Resources: Wired.com,nationalgeographic.com,news.mit.edu

Get the Workbook for this article!

Workbook contains: Article, Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking Questions, Vocabulary in Context (+ answers), Multiple Choice Quiz (+ answers), Parts of Speech Quiz (+ answers), Vocabulary Game (+ answers)
Cite Article
842 Comments
  • l78
    l78Thursday, June 11, 2020 at 12:11 pm
    Amazing!
    • effie302
      effie302Wednesday, June 10, 2020 at 12:14 pm
      that is super cool!!! like comment and follow me if you agree!!!
      • shinebright
        shinebrightFriday, March 20, 2020 at 10:35 am
        Woah!
        • dolphincorn
          dolphincornSunday, January 5, 2020 at 6:40 am
          That is so cool!!🐳
          • pickle27
            pickle27Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 4:39 pm
            this is so cool then people cal realize how global warming is hurting the environment and all the pretty coral reefs!!! 🐟🐟
            • flylikeabird37
              flylikeabird37Monday, November 25, 2019 at 11:32 am
              neat = yeet
              • AliensTuesday, October 15, 2019 at 8:44 pm
                Thanks this app Is helpfull 🎉
                • baseball14
                  baseball14Thursday, June 11, 2020 at 9:21 am
                  yeah how do you make an avatar look like that
                  • tiktokisthebest
                    tiktokisthebestWednesday, June 10, 2020 at 12:14 pm
                    How do you make it avatar like that
                    • effie302
                      effie302Thursday, June 11, 2020 at 8:42 am
                      only if your not signed into DOGOnews so it gives you those stickers
                  • meThursday, October 3, 2019 at 9:27 am
                    thanks MIT very cool
                    • HiTuesday, September 10, 2019 at 4:02 pm
                      Wouldn't the shark eat it?
                      • fishing is lifeFriday, August 30, 2019 at 11:38 am
                        that puts a hole new level to fishing and studying what fish do.