Can this robotic fish fool real fish into revealing their secrets?

SoFi in action in Fiji.                  MIT CSAIL

SoFi in action in Fiji. MIT CSAIL

It is meant to swim normally close by other fish in untamed water and keep an eye on them without raising doubts or irritating their common environment.

The analysts have taken the 18-inch-long fake fish for test swims in Fiji's Rainbow Reef, where it swam for up to 40 minutes in 50 feet of water.

Pale and plump with a tail that swishes side-to-side, the one-eyed robotic fish was built by scientists at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

SoFi isn't like other fish, but they don't seem to notice.

So far, SoFi doesn't appear to disturb the movements of other fish.

While the development of SoFi is groundbreaking in and of itself, it's even more significant in that the robotic fish is nearly entirely 3D-printed - potentially opening up use of the robot to scientific teams around the world who want an easier way to "spy" on fish and learn more about these aquatic denizens.

SoFi, the soft robotic fish, has been created to let researchers study marine life up close.

The most obvious issue with robotics underwater is the fact that electronics don't generally play nice with water. But this robofish is remote-controlled. These work with an adjustable weight compartment and buoyancy control unit that alters a mix of compressed and decompressed air to change the robot's position vertically in the water. Because the robot is so realistic, it can be operated at a close distance to real fish without disturbing them.

"We view SoFi as a first step toward developing nearly an underwater observatory of sorts", CSAIL director and co-author Daniela Rus added. A jumper coordinated the robot's developments from up to 32 feet away utilizing a waterproofed Super Nintendo controller.

While SoFi isn't completely finished, this robotic fish is shaping up to swim just as well as its living and breathing counterparts and has the potential to be quite useful for continued study.

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