Robotic ghost knifefish is revealed!


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The march (or should that be splash?) of robotic fish continues as scientists reveal a robotic ghost knifefish. Check it out in the video!

The fish, which has been developed by researchers at Northwestern University in the US, can move from swimming forwards and backwards to swimming vertically almost instantaneously by using a sophisticated, ribbon-like fin.

This is much like the actual Black ghost knifefish, which hunts at night in the rivers of the Amazon basin, and moves both forward and backward using a fin on the underside of its body.

The robot – known as 'GhostBot' - was created by Malcolm MacIver an associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science who acted as scientific consultant in "Tron: Legacy". Together with Neelesh Patankar, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, he created the mechanical models after observing Black ghost knifefish in order to get a better understanding how the nervous system sends messages throughout the body to make it move.

The robot cost $200,000 to develop and measures roughly 30cm/12in in length. It has 32 motors giving independent control of the 32 artificial fin rays of the lycra-covered artificial fin. It is also fitted with an electrosensory system that works in a similar way to the knifefish's, and MacIver and his team hope to improve the robot so it can use sensory signals from this system to detect an object and then position itself near the object.

MacIver said: "The robot is a tool for uncovering the extremely complicated story of how to coordinate movement in animals. By simulating and then performing the motions of the fish, we're getting insight into the mechanical basis of the remarkable agility of a very acrobatic, non-visual fish. The next step is to take the sensory work and unite the two."

The robot could pave the way for nimble robots that could perform underwater recovery operations  such as plugging leaking oil pipes or long-term monitoring of coral reefs.