Watch: Robot Swims Like a Real Fish Using Super Nintendo Controller

Scientists have built a fish robot that swims like a real one, potentially allowing them to get up close and personal with underwater creatures without disturbing them.

A silicone tail moves from side to side with the help of a hydraulic pump, pushing water around to make the lightweight machine move at different speeds. The team that designed it, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, calls the soft fish robot “SoFi” and said it can make marine observations easier during research.

“It swims by undulating its tail and controls its own buoyancy,” according to a video from the lab. “This allows it to operate at multiple depths. The fish’s dexterity allows for swimming underneath corals.” 

With its ability to turn and its buoyancy control, it can also move forward, from side to side and up or down.

There is a first person view from a camera at the front of the fish and its owners can operate it using a remote control that is a little unorthodox. The video shows the scientists were working off a retro-looking controller, mimicking the design of the Super Nintendo’s, that connects to a computer using a USB port.

fish-controller A soft robot moves it tail to swim like a fish, which will help scientists get closer to unsuspecting marine creatures while studying them. CSAIL/screenshot

The remote control sends out acoustic signals to the robot.

“Current robotic prototypes do not provide adequate platforms for studying marine life in their natural habitats,” the scientists wrote in their study, published in the journal Science Robotics. “This work presents the design, fabrication, control, and oceanic testing of a soft robotic fish that can swim in three dimensions to continuously record the aquatic life it is following or engaging.”

While testing the robot in action, the researchers said, they found that with its quiet motor and the ultrasonic signals coming from the remote, it could get close to fish without bothering them or scaring them away.

“To our knowledge, this is the first robotic fish that can swim untethered in three dimensions for extended periods of time,” lead study author Robert Katzschmann told MIT News. “We are excited about the possibility of being able to use a system like this to get closer to marine life than humans can get on their own.”

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