The world of technology is always looking for opportunities to create more life-like robots. Creating a robot that functions like a human has been one of the greatest scientific challenges of the 21st century, and it looks like creating a relatively autonomous lionfish was the next stop on the path towards independent robotics by incorporating dual-purpose components, reports Gizmodo.
Today’s robots are relatively basic compared to actual animal bodies, as they typically function off of single-purpose elements like a battery for energy storage or gears for power transmission. Fish, however, are equipped with multi-functional components like the fish gill, which enables underwater gas exchange, maintains body fluid pressure, regulates the acid-base balance, and discharges waste. The multi-functionality of the internal components of humans, fish, and other animals makes them flexible, adaptable, and autonomous, and robots just aren’t there yet.
But this research team, composed of scientists from Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, pursued the idea of a robotic fish with duality in mind. Their final product—a soft robotic lionfish—employs a unique circulation system that provides power and propulsion. Using hydraulic fluid as synthetic “blood,” the fish operates its pectoral fins to swim while also storing required energy.
“We realized that the operation time of most robots is very short before they have to recharge, on the order of tens of minutes, yet humans can operate for days without eating,” James Pikul, a co-author of the study and a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, told Gizmodo in an email. “We wanted to solve this problem by finding ways to store energy in all the components of a robot. This robot blood is our first demonstration of storing energy in a fluid that is normally only used for actuation.”
Though a fish is not nearly as complicated as a human, the application of multi-functional organs could create inspiration for robotics teams around the world.