SoFi: unlocking the secrets of our seas
Sustainability is never far from the headlines and the impact that humankind has on the world is becoming clear for us all to see as media campaigns and TV programmes like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet continue to highlight the negative effect of our actions on the environment.
The damage that we are doing to our oceans has, in particular, come into harsh light recently. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch reported to be twice the size of Texas is just one way that we are gradually destroying our oceans and it is more important than ever before that we make changes to try and reverse this.
MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has released details of a new hypnotic robot machine called SoFi (or soft robot fish) that is more advanced than any other similar device and is tasked with helping scientists understand the changes happening in our oceans – many of which are occurring as a direct result of human damage.
CSAIL PhD candidate Robert Katzschmann commented: "To our knowledge, this is the first robotic fish that can swim untethered in three dimensions for extended periods of time. It has the potential to be a new type of tool for ocean exploration and to open up new avenues for uncovering the mysteries of marine life."
The specially designed robot impersonates the movement of fish and can be remotely controlled from up to 50 feet away. SoFi’s specialist design incorporates a pump which allows for natural undulation of the tail and the machine also has the ability to compresses and decompress. Katzschmann explains how this is made possible by filling the hollow compartments with oil which allows SoFi to regulate its internal pressure, allowing for deeper sea exploration.
Trialled at the Rainbow Reef in Fiji, SoFi has the capability to swim for up to 40 minutes and (so far) the disguise appears to be working, with video recordings showing fish swimming close to the side of SoFi without being scared off as they would with humans.
The hope is that going forward the team behind SoFi will be able to use the technology to better integrate with sea creatures, potentially with whole schools of robotic fish fitted with everything from cameras to thermometers picking up environmental information about our seas.
And with our natural environment at breaking point it is crucial that we begin to educate ourselves on the harm that has been done in an attempt to preserve what we have left of our precious seas.