You Will Soon Be Watched Underwater by a Robotic Tuna

Illustration for article titled You Will Soon Be Watched Underwater by a Robotic Tuna

When you think of autonomous, unmanned spy vehicles, you probably imagine the telltale shape of a small aircraft overhead, and the suspicious sound of whirring propellers. Spy vehicles, however, aren't just for the sky anymore. The U.S. Navy has funded the development of an autonomous, unmanned vehicle shaped like a fish and capable of covering up to three times the distance of a typical UAV using the same battery. It's called GhostSwimmer, and it'll be entering our waters in 2009.Researchers at Boston Engineering and at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering created GhostSwimmer, which a refined version of an initial MIT prototype called RoboTuna. Since the tuna is one of the fastest fish in the oceans, the RoboTuna team reasoned, a robot that could mimic its movements would be an ideal underwater vehicle. RoboTuna — and, by extension, GhostSwimmer — resulted from an extensive study of the hydrodynamics of tuna motion and an intricate mimic design. GhostSwimmer swims by manipulating its dorsal (back), pectoral (chest), and caudal (tail) fins; like its biological namesake, it can reach up to 70 kilometers per hour. This speed caught the eye of the Navy, who want to use GhostSwimmer as both a spy vehicle and a prototype for a future class of fuel-efficient submarines. After a few more years, we might have an entire school of robotic fish confusing the hell out of the rest of the ocean. A fin-tuned design [via Economist] MIT RoboTuna home page


Corpore Metal

Tuna jokes aside, I wonder what the Navy's thinking is here. Radio communication underwater sucks so are they planning making these fish robots autonomous spy vehicles? Or are they going to drag long cords behind them to stay under control of the mother ship?