MIT SoFi soft robot swims in the ocean like a real fish

MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has unveiled SoFi, a soft robotic fish that can swim in the ocean using realistic movements, enabling it to get up close and personal with real sea life. SoFi was tested in the Rainbow Reef, where it was able to swim at depths down to 50ft, taking on ocean currents while capturing videos and photos using a built-in camera.

SoFi is described as being lightweight and simple, relatively speaking, using a motor and camera to navigate and study the ocean without scaring nearby creatures. A lithium-polymer battery powers the soft robot, which features a pair of chambers described as "balloon-like."

These balloon chambers are located in SoFi's tail, where they function like engine pistons to enable swimming motions. As shown in the video above, the side-to-side swimming motion is similar to the movements made by real fish, and just like with real fish, SoFi can adjust its patterns to change speed.

In addition to the balloon chambers, SoFi features flexible plastic and silicone rubber for its back half, as well as a 3D-printed head and other components. The robot has both electronics and machinery, which are isolated from the water and sealed, in part, using baby oil. A pair of fins on the robot's sides, meanwhile, enable it to dive up and down, an action partially made possible by decompressing and compressing air.

Motor noise is kept to a minimum, as are ultrasonic emissions, to avoid disrupting the environment. Because the robot is so realistic, it can be operated at a close distance to real fish without disturbing them. That enables researchers to better study marine life while also reducing concerns found with traditional marine robots, such as the need to avoid collisions.