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Robotic Ghost Knifefish Is Born


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Northwestern professor Malcolm MacIver

Northwestern professor Malcolm MacIver holds the GhostBot robot, which has omnidirectional sensing and movement.

Credit: Northwestern University

Northwestern University researchers have developed GhostBot, a robotic fish that can instantly change directions using a ribbon-like fin, potentially revolutionizing the use of underwater robots for rescue missions and scientific studies. The inspiration for the design came from computer simulations of the black ghost knifefish, which hunts using a weak electric field. "It's interesting because you're getting force coming off the animal in a completely unexpected direction that allows it to do acrobatics that, given its lifestyle of hunting and maneuvering among tree roots, makes a huge amount of sense," says Northwestern professor Malcolm MacIver.

The robot is equipped with 32 motors that control the 32  lycra-covered artificial fins, giving the device 32 degrees of freedom, compared to traditional industrial robot arms, which only have 10 degrees of freedom. The researchers want to train the robot to autonomously use its electrosensory system to identify and move toward other objects in the water.

View a video of associate professor MacIver discussing the development of the GhostBot robot.

"By simulating and then performing the motions of the fish, we're getting insight into the mechanical basis of the remarkable agility of a very acrobatic, non-visual fish," MacIver says.

From Northwestern University News Center
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