Swimming robot developed inspired by 400-million-year-old fish
image: EPFL

Swimming robot developed inspired by 400-million-year-old fish

Around 400 million years ago, a jawless parasitic fish existed that could suck the blood out of an amphibious creature. Now, we have a robot named AgnathaX that resembles the parasitic fish. Thankfully, blood-sucking isn’t a trait it borrows from the original.

Kamilo Melo, CEO of biorobotics company KM-RoBoTa , says the robot is built to study the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system of a fish known as the lamprey. He says these animals can teach humans a lot about ourselves, as their spinal cord and peripheral nervous system are related to ours, mostly unchanged over the past several hundred million years of evolution.

Understanding evolution with the help of robots

The team says that the robot has offered new information to a long-lasting debate in neuroscience about how the central peripheral nervous systems interact to coordinate movement. The research was published in the journal Science Robotics.

After making several cuts to the spinal cord of the robot, the team observed how it was still able to swim because sensors outside enabled it to sense the water and compensate accordingly to keep the wavelike swimming pattern going.

The application of robotics to this type of research has enabled scientists to study things such as cuts to the spinal cord without having to injure any lampreys in the process.

Paving the way for more underwater robots

Kamilo also said that the next focus of the project is to attempt to steer the robot and test its capability to swim when there’s disruption, in more turbulent waters. Farther down the line, this research could help inform the development of future swimming robotics in ocean exploration.

Previously, using a combination of fluid dynamics and biomechanics, scientists from the University of Virginia derived a formula that allows their tuna-shaped robot with a specifically designed tail that is as good as a natural tail. When they applied the formula to the tuna-shaped robot, they learned that it could swim at a greater variety of speeds using almost half as much energy when compared to the one with a fixed tail.

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