Saving Real Fish with 3D Printed Robotic Fish

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3D printed robotic fish have been developed by multiple institutions, for multiple purposes: to study real fish, to detect toxins in water, and more. Now researchers at the Dynamical Systems Laboratory at New York University‘s Tandon School of Engineering have developed new robotic fish for several purposes – one being to help protect real fish.

Roni Barak Ventura

“Robotic fish have important real-life applications,” said Roni Barak Ventura, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at the Tandon School of Engineering. “In laboratory settings, replica fish are used to deliver controllable stimuli to study the behavior of real living fish. As the robotic fish becomes increasingly similar to its living counterpart—both in appearance and behavior—it can begin replacing real fish in experiments that can spare animal lives.”

That’s not the only way that robotic fish can save real fish lives, however. The robots, which are based on zebra fish, can actually be used to steer real zebra fish away from hazardous environments.

“In nature, robotic fish can potentially be used to drive schools of fish away from dangers, such as oil spills,” said Ventura. “And of course, being robots, the robotic fish is a useful tool in STEM education, inspiring people of all ages to learn about science and engineering.”

Researchers from a variety of backgrounds came together to create the robotic fish.

“Led by Professor Maurizio Porfiri, the Dynamical Systems Laboratory is composed of people from many different disciplines, including engineers, mathematicians, biologists, and psychologists,” said Ventura. “Having such a diverse group allows us to conduct interesting research that covers broad scientific fields.”

To create the robotic fish, the researchers used a combination of 3D printing and off-the shelf electronics.

“Since we want our products to be translated into everyday life, we try to use basic, affordable materials,” said Ventura. “We use simple actuators, such as step motors and servo motors. For sensing, we use simple web cameras and couple them with MATLAB or other computer software.The morphology of the robots is very important in our research. We often 3D print replica models using ABS plastic. When we try to mimic size and texture, we also use silicone molds. All robots are painted with non-toxic colors, of course. We have several approaches to controlling the systems we design. Some robotic fish are controlled from iDevices through Bluetooth or through RFM and Wi-Fi. For larger platforms that require complex motion and computation, we use a computer.”

There are two different approaches to controlling the movement of the fish: one is to allow them to move independently of the real fish, and the other is to track and mimic the real fish.

“We generally use two control paradigms: open-loop and closed-loop. In open-loop configurations, the robotic platform maneuvers a replica independent of real fish in the tank, based on data-driven trajectories or mathematical models of fish swimming,” explained Ventura. “In closed-loop configurations, a camera records the position of fish. Then an in-house software acquires the location of the fish and executes behavioral trajectories accordingly.”

This isn’t easy, however.

“It is very difficult to work with animals because their behavior is stochastic and highly unpredictable,” Ventura said. “Replicating their behavior and movement is specific for each species and is extremely challenging to capture.”

The research is promising, however, and Ventura will present it on June 12th at the Atlantic Design and Manufacturing Show, which is part of the massive Advanced Manufacturing New York event. Ventura’s session will be called “Learning from Nature: the Mechanics Behind the Robotic Zoo.” She will have a tank of the robotic zebra fish on hand to demonstrate.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source: Design News / Images: Dynamical Systems Laboratory]

 

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