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U.S. Navy is sponsoring fish robot project to help develop underwater vehicles

Could studying the locomotion of fish be the key to developing more versatile underwater vehicles and robotics systems? The U.S. Navy appears to think so — based on the fact that its Office of Naval Research has issued a $258,008 grant to researchers at Florida Atlantic University for that purpose.

Dr. Oscar Curet of the university’s Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering has spent the past several years investigating fish-like robots. His latest: a 16-motored robot based on the blade-like knife fish, is one of the most promising yet.

“I’m interested in the fluid dynamics of biosystems,” Curet told Digital Trends. “I believe that the kind of flexible structures we see in many types of animal propulsion can transform the way that robots propel and maneuver. The knife fish has a wide range of capabilities. They have a large fin they can manipulate to move forward, backwards, and otherwise generate a big range of rich motions that aren’t seen in many animals.”

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The knife fish bot is not the only project the naval grant will aid. Primarily, it will go toward cutting-edge instrumentation for the 3D observation of underwater-flow dynamics. This system will enable researchers at Florida Atlantic University to better understand how fluid dynamics work in association with bio-inspired flexible propulsors in complex underwater environments.

The result of all this work will hopefully soon be more agile underwater robots.

“It’s true that there hasn’t been as much work with autonomous underwater vehicles and underwater robotics, but it’s an area with huge potential,” Curet said. “There are exciting applications in ocean exploration for surveying the floor of the ocean, for analyzing different pollutants in water, and for inspecting underwater structures like pipelines, sea walls or ships. A lot of these require the ability to navigate complex environments, which is why having a robot which can maneuver and adjust in these conditions is very useful.”