Electric Fish Robotics

Sunday, 16 February 2014
Columbus KL (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Malcolm A. MacIver , Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Weakly electric knifefish have intrigued both biologists and engineers for decades with their unique ability to sense with a self-generated electric field and capacity for multi-directional swimming. Study of these fish has resulted in bio-inspired robots that illuminate the principles behind their electrosensory system and unique swimming abilities. These robots have uncovered the mechanisms by which knifefish generate thrust for swimming forward and backward, hovering, and moving vertically with an elongated fin along their belly. Robotic active electrosense enables sensing in murky waters where other sensing modalities fail. Artificial electrosense is capable of aiding navigation, detection and discrimination of objects, and mapping the environment, all tasks for which the fish use electrosense extensively. While robotic ribbon fin and artificial electrosense research has been pursued separately to reduce complications that arise when they are combined, electric fish have succeeded in their ecological niche through close coupling of their sensing and mechanical systems. Future integration of electrosense and ribbon fin technology into a knifefish robot should likewise result in a vehicle capable of navigating complex 3D geometries unreachable with current underwater vehicles, as well as provide insights into how to design mobile robots that integrate high bandwidth sensing with highly responsive multidirectional movement.