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Innovation

A robotic tuna for the Navy

You might not know that the bluefin tuna is an ultra-efficient swimmer. But the U.S. Navy knows that this tuna can reach speeds of 50 mph. So it wants to build robotic bluefin tunas for submarine surveillance missions. The first prototypes, designed by Massachusetts engineers, should be available by the end of the year. Of course, there are many other autonomous underwater vehicles (UAVs) already on the market. But there is a twist: a vast majority of them uses propellers. In fact, they are gliders, not swimmers. And RoboTuna 2.0 will be able to travel three times longer than these gliders with the same batteries. But read more...
Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

You might not know that the bluefin tuna is an ultra-efficient swimmer. But the U.S. Navy knows that this tuna can reach speeds of 50 mph. So it wants to build robotic bluefin tunas for submarine surveillance missions. The first prototypes, designed by Massachusetts engineers, should be available by the end of the year. Of course, there are many other autonomous underwater vehicles (UAVs) already on the market. But there is a twist: a vast majority of them uses propellers. In fact, they are gliders, not swimmers. And RoboTuna 2.0 will be able to travel three times longer than these gliders with the same batteries. But read more...

RoboTuna II rib cage

You can see above the RoboTuna II rib cage. (Credit: MIT) Here is a link to a larger version of this photo.

RoboTuna II new tail

And you can see above the RoboTuna II new tail. (Credit: MIT) Here is a link to a larger version of this photo. Other photos from MIT are available from this gallery.

The RoboTuna II (a.k.a. as RoboTuna 2.0) project is led at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering by David Barrett, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the SCOPE Program (Senior Consulting Program for Engineering). He worked with Boston Engineering principal engineer Mike Rufo, who is overseeing the project.

So when will the Navy receive its first robotic tunas? "'We expect to have a working prototype by the end of the year,' said Olin's David Barrett in an interview Thursday. 'We have some talented students working on it and we have a great swimming pool for testing.' Barrett said the plan is to test the device later in a lake at Wellesley College."

A bluefin tuna can reach a speed of 50 mph (or about 80 km/h) How can he do it? "The bluefin's torpedo-shaped body is nearly circular in cross-section, making it a natural choice for engineers to study and build prototypes. "'The bluefin tuna is the fastest of fish,' said a specialist at the Fisheries Service. 'It's a powerful and fast swimmer with great hydrodynamics.' The fish tuck their fins in when they want to accelerate. The Olin-Boston Engineering project's robotic tuna is based on the species' biology and behavior with a spine and vertebrae that produce motion via synthetic muscles. Barrett said the robot's fins and tail produce motion and propulsion."

In an article published on July 25, 2008 by Mass High Tech, Massachusetts, "Engineers build 'RoboTuna' for Navy, Brendan Lynch provided additional details. "RoboTuna is designed to be biomimetic, based on animal biology and behavior, and will sport a spine and vertebrae that triggers a wave of motion by using synthetic muscles made of electro-active polymers that run the length of the robot. The fins and tail turn the robot’s motion into propulsion, according to David Barrett."

And why the Navy wants to get these robotic tunas? "The U.S. Navy wants to incorporate the technology into a superefficient, tuna-mimicking submarine of the future, Barrett said. In the near term, the military wants to use the robots for intelligence gathering. A tuna-based robot would be able to go on longer missions and would be able to hold different payloads, such as cameras and radioactivity sensors, in its modular payload bay."

For more information about this project, here is a link to a two-minute video produced by New England Cable News (NECN), Massachusetts, "Robotuna to be used for military intelligence," which contains an interview with Brendan Lynch. You also might want to read about the story of the first RoboTuna, which started 15 years ago at the MIT.

Sources: W. David Gardner, InformationWeek, August 28, 2008; and various websites

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