ABOVE:  The green laser running the length of the Tunabot is part of a technique to measure water flow.
Credit: ZHU ET AL. (2019)

Robots that move like fish have many potential uses, from toys to behavioral studies of real animals to military defense. But most fish-inspired bots swim relatively slowly. The Tunabot, described in a paper published in Science Robotics on September 18, is an exception. 

It’s modeled after fish such as yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) and Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) that can swim fast by moving their tail fins at a high frequency. While most fishlike robots operate at less than 2 Hz, the Tunabot moves its tail at a maximum of 15 Hz, with a swimming speed of four body lengths per second. This is similar to the real-life behavior of tuna and mackerel. 

The Tunabot swims at a higher speed than...

In the future, the team aims to up the speed even more. “Our ultimate goal is to surpass biology,” says lead researcher Hilary Bart-Smith, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Virginia, in a press release. “How can we build something that looks like biology but swims faster than anything you see out there in the ocean?” 

The machine is made of 3D-printed resin and steel covered by a flexible skin.
ZHU ET AL. (2019)

J. Zhu et al., “Tuna robotics: A high-frequency experimental platform exploring the performance space of swimming fishes,” doi:10.1126/scirobotics.aax4615, Sci Robot, 2019.

Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at emakowski@the-scientist.com

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