Robotic tuna fish have been around longer than smartphones. In 1993, MIT scientists built the RoboTuna, an eyeless, menacing thing covered in Lycra, to see if the bot could teach the researchers how to build better robotic submarines. At least 14 robotic marine animals have been built since then, and for a variety of purposes—from toy sharks to robotic impersonators that can lead schools of fish away from underwater turbines.
The RoboTuna’s latest iteration comes by way of MIT, again, and cloaked in soft teal silicone. In the inaugural issue of Soft Robotics, the MIT researchers claim that their version is the "first self-contained autonomous soft robot capable of rapid body motion," or, in English, a soft robot whose movements and simplest decision-making really resembles that of a fish. Its creators say the fish’s soft flexibility allows it to move in ways that hard joints simply wouldn’t afford, and makes it safer to be around.
The fish, which keeps all of its computation and sensors in its head, contains a carbon dioxide canister that puffs pockets of gas to different parts of the body, making it undulate. It can also do something called a C-turn, an escape mechanism real fish pull off to avoid predators.
Still, the robo-fish does have its drawbacks. It doesn’t last very long in the water, for one, though the inventors are hoping to build one that lasts 30 minutes. And even with its pleasant coloring, it’s still kind of creepy in that uncanny valley sort of way. Then again, other fish might not mind, especially if they’re gullible enough to follow this thing around.