Biomimetic and bio-inspired robotics in electric fish research

Izaak D. Neveln, Yang Bai, James B. Snyder, James R. Solberg, Oscar M. Curet, Kevin M. Lynch, Malcolm A. MacIver*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Weakly electric knifefish have intrigued both biologists and engineers for decades with their unique electrosensory system and agile swimming mechanics. Study of these fish has resulted in models that illuminate the principles behind their electrosensory system and unique swimming abilities. These models have uncovered the mechanisms by which knifefish generate thrust for swimming forward and backward, hovering, and heaving dorsally using a ventral elongated median fin. Engineered active electrosensory models inspired by electric fish allow for close-range sensing in turbid waters where other sensing modalities fail. Artificial electrosense is capable of aiding navigation, detection and discrimination of objects, and mapping the environment, all tasks for which the fish use electrosense extensively. While robotic ribbon fin and artificial electrosense research has been pursued separately to reduce complications that arise when they are combined, electric fish have succeeded in their ecological niche through close coupling of their sensing and mechanical systems. Future integration of electrosense and ribbon fin technology into a knifefish robot should likewise result in a vehicle capable of navigating complex 3D geometries unreachable with current underwater vehicles, as well as provide insights into how to design mobile robots that integrate high bandwidth sensing with highly responsive multidirectional movement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2501-2514
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Bio-inspiration
  • Biomimetics
  • Electric fish
  • Mechanics
  • Robotics
  • Sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology


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