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Robot fish moves in 3-D

28 Jun 2013

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If MIT's Boston Dynamics has the BigDog robot and the DFKI (the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence) has a robot ape, then the National University of Singapore (NUS) has a robot carp.

Researchers from the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering NUS have created a small autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that mimics the movements of carp. The robot fish can be programmed to perform specific functions like underwater exploration, pipeline leakage detection and the laying out of communication cables.

The team includes Professor Xu Jianxin, Mr. Fan Lupeng, graduating Electrical Engineering student and Research Fellow, Dr. Ren Qinyuan. Mr Fan. worked on the project for his final year and studied the movements of real life carps for three months, in order to develop their robot. The project will be featured at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, a top international conference on intelligent robots, in Tokyo on 3-7 November 2013.

Robot fish 3D prototype

Figure 1: A 3D prototype of the Robot Carp, submerged in water. (Credit: National University of Singapore)

Robot carp in 3-D
"Currently, robot fish capable of 2-D movements are common, meaning that these models are not able to dive into the water. Our model is capable of 3-D movements as it can dive and float, using its fins like a real fish. Compared to traditional AUVs, they are certainly more mobile, with greater manoeuvrability. If used for military purpose, fish robots would definitely be more difficult to detect by the enemy," said Prof. Xu.

According to Mr. Fan, fish robots are quieter and consume less energy, compared to traditional AUVs. "We chose to study carps because most fish swim like them. There is no literature at all on designing a mathematical model on the locomotion of fish and so we had to start from scratch. We used a camera to capture all the possible movements of a carp and then converted the data mathematically so that we could transfer the locomotion of real carp to our robot using different actuators," he added.

As fishes use a lot of different muscles to move, the team required a lot of actuators to make its robot fish move in the same manner.

"Some fish can achieve almost 180 degrees turning in a small turning radius through bending their body, while traditional underwater vehicles have a much larger turning radius. Hence it is quite a feat for us to achieve this movement in our robot fish," said Mr. Ren.

Dressing up the robot fish

Figure 2: How their robot fish would look, when the "cosmetic" exterior is added. (Credit: National University of Singapore)

Other challenges included waterproofing the fish body, the motor and the control box. The fins and tails also need to be flexible and the team decided to use 1mm acrylic board for these. Buoyancy and balance for the robot is maintained by using plastic foams attached to both sides. For the diving mechanism, their robot fish is equipped with an internal ballast system to change density. The system is sophisticated enough to enable the fish to dive suddenly, as well as to the precise depth intended.

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