Friday Gadget: The BIOSwimmer Fish Robot

BioSwimmer1The Biomimetic In-Oil Swimmer (BIO-Swimmer) is an robotic fish that has been under development the last 4-5 years by Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group in Waltham, MA, for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is tasked with uncovering attempts to damage, disrupt, or illegally use the flow of commerce; without detection.  As you can imagine, this is a challenging process.  With regard to waterways, a balance needs to be maintained between monitoring ports, rivers and other waterways without slowing commerce.  The BIOSwimmer is being developed to help the U.S. secure and protect these very waterways.  It is a fish-inspired (it looks like a Tuna) robot that can be deployed rapidly.  It is designed to maneuver into locations previously inaccessible to current robots and provide security intelligence far beyond current capability.

The robot is a hybrid of the design features of a regular submarine (i.e. dive planes, thruster-powered locomotion, and a rigid hull) combined with the flexible keel of a fish.  The tuna is used as a biological model because its natural swimming gait holds the front 2/3 of the fish’s body rigid, while the rear 1/3 moves; this allows the robot to utilize the front 2/3 of its body as a rigid, watertight hull, while the rear 1/3 is converted into a flooded flexible structure. The robot uses hydraulic actuators to move the flexible tail structure from side to side and electric motors for dive plane control.

It is a drone that is controlled via laptop-based system, so it requires a human operator.  It uses an onboard camera and computer suite for navigation, sensor processing, and communications.  It has onboard sensors which are designed for the challenging environment of constricted spaces and high viscosity fluids that are found in crowded and active ports on our waterways.   

All this capability produces a robotic fish-inspired drone that can both move through the water quickly and turn on a dime, a set of traits not usually seen together in underwater vehicles of any type. 

The BIOSwimmer will be expected to perform tasks like conducting ship hull inspections; performing search and rescue missions; and checking cargo holds that may have toxic fluids.   It can inspect the interior voids of ships such as flooded bilges and tanks, and hard to reach external areas such as steerage, propulsion and sea chests.  It can also inspect and protect harbors and piers, perform area searches and carry out other security missions.