Mother Nature > Robots: The Ghost Knifefish is helping underwater robots ‘see’ in the dark

When my Dad worked off-shore, he was friendly with the ROV guys. That’s Remote Operated (Underwater) Vehicle to you and I. As if operating a robot with a camera and a big flashlight on the bottom of the North Sea wasn’t a cool enough job, they added extra fun by attaching various toys and action figures to the ROV and sending plastic Spiderman and company down to sleep with the fishes. I can’t find the pictures to share with the world, but seeing a plastic Spiderman resting with a real fish at the bottom of the North Sea is surreal to say the least.

The level of flexibility demonstrated by an ROV comes primarily from the fact it is tethered. Imagine if you had a remote controlled ROV which was completely autonomous from the ship the controller was on and had the flexibility of a native creature of the sea. It may mean we could conduct much better deep sea research, or capture even more amazing deep-sea photography. At Northwestern University, researchers have been studying the ghost knifefish, which is a real name for a real creature and not the name of a bizarre Japanese anime, to try and mimic a number of the unique abilities it possesses and apply these to underwater robotics.

For one, knife ghostfish move by undulating their body in specific patterns in order to generate a wave which propels the fish in the appropriate direction, allowing it to move well even in fast moving waters. Personally I feel they should be trying to make robots move in the same way underwater as seahorses do. Secondly, the ghost knifefish can send out and receive small electric currents in order to find their way around extremely dark locations, very much like a TM you could teach your Pokemon. Let’s see Daniel Kish teach himself that. Researchers think that this will be a pretty useful thing to build into robots for such situations as exploring sunken ships. [Source]

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