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Flying Fish…New Swimming, Flying Robot

Flying Fish…New Swimming, Flying Robot

Tuesday, 17 September, 2019 - 05:15
A robot fish dubbed SoFi, created by MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to explore marine environments, swims at Rainbow Reef off Taveuni, Fiji. Photo: MIT CSAIL handout via Reuters

A team of British researchers has created a bio-inspired bot that uses water from the environment to create a gas and launch itself from the water's surface.

The robot, which can travel 26 meters through the air after take-off, could be used to collect water samples in hazardous and cluttered environments, such as during flooding or when monitoring ocean pollution.

The Tech Xplore website reports that robots that can transition from water to air are desirable in these situations, but the launch requires a lot of power, which has been difficult to achieve in small robots.

The robot developed by researchers at Imperial College London is a system that requires just 0.2 grams of calcium carbide powder in a combustion chamber. The only moving part is a small pump that brings in water from the environment the robot is sat in, such as a lake or ocean, the website said.

The water and the calcium-carbide powder combine and produce a burnable acetylene gas. As the gas ignites, it expands, and propels the robot clear of the water, according to the German News Agency.

The Tech Xplore website cited Lead researcher Dr. Mirko Kovac, director of the Aerial Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College, saying "water-to-air transition is a power-intensive process, which is difficult to achieve on a small-scale flying vehicle that needs to be lightweight for flight."

"We have used water-reactive chemicals to reduce the materials that the robot needs to carry," he explained.

The team tested the robot in a lab, in a lake, and in a wave tank, showing that it can escape from the water's surface even under relatively rough conditions. According to the researchers, the robot, which weighs just 160 grams, can 'jump' multiple times after refilling its water tank. This could allow it to float on water and take samples at multiple points without additional power, saving energy over longer distances compared to an electrically powered robot.

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