A research team composed of indivduals from New York’s Tandon School of Engineering and the Polytechnic University of Turin have recently created a fully-functional, robotic zebrafish with 3D printing. Capable of blending in with actual zebrafish, the 3D printed robotic fish is uncovering information on the complex functionalities of these fish.

The Design

Poised with the difficulty of developing a design capable of holding key operating components, such as the battery, while also replicating the relatively small size of a zebrafish, the research team turned to 3D printing. Using a Stratasys Objet500 Connex 3D printer, they were able to produce an extremely precise robo-fish just over 6 centimeters in size. Even more impressive about the design, was the robotic fish’s ability to maneuver similar to a real zebrafish; typical robotic fish are only capable of swimming straight.

The 3D printed fish was developed with multiple materials, in two different parts. The first part was the outer shell, printed with vero resin material in order to protect the electronic components within the fish. The second part was the tail, printed with rubbery tango material for fluidity while “swimming” in the water. The research team’s ability to create the fish in just two parts is credited to the capabilities 3D printing. Multi-material printing enabled the process to be simplified dramatically – to just 2 steps.

The Significance

The driving force behind the research team’s invention is quite intriguing. Zebrafish travel in massive schools, moving in complete unison. This ability to move as one has long been a mystery to researchers because it requires the fish to actually communicate telepathically. The 3D printed fish was created so that the team could study these bizarre attributes of the fish and potentially abstract information beneficial to humans. Researchers believe their work could potentially yield advancements in artificial intelligence, marine life and more.

Aside from the behavioral brain research and neoropsychobiology, this 3D printed robotic fish could prove to bring developments in the medical industry. Zebrafish have the ability to regenerate both heart and brain cells, and were one of the first ever vertebrates successfully cloned. They also have genes which can be extracted and naturally adopted by other living organisms. Medical researchers are studying these miraculous abilities with hopes of one day replicating them in non-aquatic life.