A robotic fish designed for underwater archaeology, mapping, water cultivation and even fishing has been co-developed by the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Automation Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The black-bodied robot fish is about four feet long, and resembles a real fish in both shape and movement. The robot is controlled remotely with a palm-sized control pad. It also has automatic navigation controls and swims at about four kilometers per hour for up to three hours.
The robofish from China is described as being “flexible in action, easy to operate and makes little disturbance to surrounding environment.” It has been tested in an underwater search of a sunken warship last August.
This sophisticated robot might be the direct ancestor of the Mitsubishi turbot, the robofish that is the star of Michael Swanwick’s 2002 novelette Slow Life. In the story, astronauts gamely explore Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, while doing good public relations by answering constant questions posed for them over the Web. The robofish is used to swim not just in water, but in icy lakes of methane and ammonia:
Consuelo carefully cleaned both of her suit’s gloves in the sea, then seized the shrink-wrap’s zip tab and yanked. The plastic parted. Awkwardly, she straddled the fish, lifted it by the two side-handles, and walked it into the dark slush.
She set the fish down. “Now I’m turning it on.”
The Mitsubishi turbot wriggled, as if alive. With one fluid motion, it surged forward, plunged, and was gone.
Lizzie switched over to the fishcam.
Black liquid flashed past the turbot’s infrared eyes. Straight away from the shore it swam, seeing nothing but flecks of paraffin, ice, and other suspended particulates as they loomed up before it and were swept away in the violence of its wake. A hundred meters out, it bounced a pulse of radar off the sea floor, then dove, seeking the depths…