Researchers at Northwestern University have created a robotic fish that can move from swimming forward and backward to swimming vertically almost instantaneously by using a sophisticated, ribbon-like fin.
The robot — created after observing and creating computer simulations of the black ghost knifefish — could pave the way for nimble robots that could perform underwater recovery operations or long-term monitoring of coral reefs.
The black ghost knifefish, which works at night in rivers of the Amazon basin, hunts for prey using a weak electric field around its entire body and moves both forward and backward using a ribbon-like fin on the underside of its body.
MacIver, a robotics expert who served as a scientific consultant for “Tron: Legacy” and is science advisor for the television series “Caprica,” has studied the knifefish for years. Working with Neelesh Patankar, associate professor of mechanical engineering and co-author of the paper, he has created mechanical models of the fish in hopes of better understanding how the nervous system sends messages throughout the body to make it move.
The fin mechanism is just so cool to watch!
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The way these fish swim is interesting, but the most fascinating thing is that they can sense electric fields around their bodies:
(RE: the above link, how cool is it that they’ve made Bode plots of the fish’s motion? That’s something any good engineer can appreciate!)
This same form of sensing has been used by other robots; for example, here is a robot using electric field sensing to plug itself into wall outlets for automatic recharging:
If you liked the fishie, here’s more biologically inspired mechatronic concepts, courtesy of my esteemed employer. Follow the link!