Robot designed like Amazon’s electric “ghost knifefish”

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

electric fish
The ghost knifefish wriggles its lower fin to navigate.

A group of researchers found inspiration for a new robot they call GhostBot, by studying the Amazon basin’s ghost knifefish. The slippery creature detects objects in its environment by releasing tiny electric currents, and a long fin beneath its body can help it cut efficiently through the water. The scientists hope their robot version will do the same and dive into waters too dangerous for humans.

Underwater vehicles today don’t work too well in dark or cluttered conditions, such as those around a sunken ship. Because it’d be risky business to send a human diver to explore such a site, using a robot modeled after the ghost knifefish is much safer.

Just like the real underwater animal, GhostBot can use tiny electric currents to detect unseen objects and a fin-like propulsion system pushes it forward quickly. Currently, researchers are working on a way to get GhostBot to detect an object and get near it all by itself, so that it can explore sunken ruins on its own.

Northwestern University professor, Malcolm MacIver, created the robot via the science of biomimicry, which studies nature to solve human problems. He says, “…we can learn from the electric fish. They don’t use vision to hunt at night in the rivers of the Amazon basin, and their movement through the cluttered root masses and flooded forests requires incredible precision. They fill a big hole in terms of our capabilities in underwater robots.”

Featured image courtesy of NorthwesternU on YouTube. Image of electric fish courtesy of Derek Ramsey on Wikipedia.