Navy’s ‘Silent NEMO’ project tests Boston robotic fish for stealth ops

Boston Engineering's 'GhostSwimmer' robot can stealthily navigate cramped spaces. The Navy tested it off Virginia Beach last week.  (Image: US Navy)
Boston Engineering's 'GhostSwimmer' robot can stealthily navigate cramped spaces. The Navy tested it off Virginia Beach last week. (Image: US Navy)

A robotic fish called the GhostSwimmer made by Boston Engineering successfully completed a series of maneuvers led by the US Office of Naval Research last week.

“I can’t tell you exactly what they wanted us to do,” Mark Smithers, chief technology officer at Boston Engineering, said. “We were able to do something that [we weren’t] able to do prior [to that] and we did it successfully multiple times.”

The 5-foot, 100-pound robot is called the GhostSwimmer, and moves like a shark. Its strength is the ability to nimbly navigate cramped spaces carrying short-range sensors.

Testing-GhostSwimmer

Modeled after the body of a real fish, the back end of the GhostSwimmer is flexible, and oscillates like the tail of a tuna. The robot carries sensors that register its speed and location and now has the ability to register a series of commands and execute them without human help.

The GhostSwimmer is not the only robotic fish in the sea — last year a group at MIT led by Daniela Rus at MIT also showed off a smaller swimmer made out of soft parts that carried its “brain” on board.

Unlike Liquid Robotics, whose solar-powered wave gliders excel at endurance feats, or Bluefin Robotics, whose array of sensors give it an advantage at extreme depths, the GhostSwimmer wins the short game, Smithers explained. When a new ship approaches a port, for example, the Coast Guard could drop the GhostSwimmer out of the boat, have a look under the new ship, and return with recon in half a day.

Boston Engineering expects to launch research partnerships by the end of next year, and expects to start selling the GhostSwimmer in 2016. Funded by the Office of Naval Research, this technology has been under development since 2008.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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