Robotic Fish Research Featured on BBC

Highly agile underwater robots could repair deep-sea oil rigs

The weakly electric black ghost knifefish of the Amazon basin has inspired professor Malcolm MacIver and an interdisciplinary team of researchers to develop agile fish robots that could lead to a vast improvement in underwater vehicles used to study fragile coral reefs, repair damaged deep-sea oil rigs or investigate sunken ships.

Malcolm MacIverMacIver’s research, which he presented February 16 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago, has been featured on the BBC. 

“Our technology for working in water is not very advanced,” said MacIver, associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering and a robotics expert who has studied the black ghost knifefish for two decades. “Current underwater vehicles are large and lack agility, which means that working close to living or manmade structures is nearly impossible. We’ve taken lessons learned from the knifefish about movement and non-visual sensing and developed new technologies that should improve underwater vehicles.”

MacIver and colleagues in Northwestern’s Neuroscience and Robotics Lab have developed more than half a dozen robots based on the weakly electric knifefish.

Future development of the knifefish robot should result in a vehicle capable of navigating complex 3-D geometries in murky waters, tasks that are impossible with current underwater vehicles.

Read the BBC’s story on MacIver’s research.