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Outside magazine, April 1995
“Tuna are the fighter planes of the fish world,” says Dave Barrett, a 35-year-old ocean engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hoping to put that power in a can, Barrett and his colleagues are creating a four-foot-long ocean probe patterned after the hard-swimming bluefin tuna. “Robotuna” has polystyrene ribs, spandex skin, and a computerized nervous system that
Plumbing the deep has long been limited by the expense of manned exploration. Hoping to economize, Barrett, with funds from the U.S. Navy, decided to build a $50,000 fish; he picked the tuna because it’s had 60 million years to evolve a very spiffy propulsion system. Since any robot runs only as long as its batteries, Barrett hopes that by mimicking bluefin efficiency, Robotuna
For now, Robotuna swims only in a 110-foot-long test tank, tethered by an electric umbilical: The first outdoor splash will happen this summer in a saltwater pond. If everything works, Robotuna will be released next year to map the ocean floor, track schools of real fish, and flirt with a buoy or two before swimming home with a bellyful of data.