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Solar powered robotic sunfish grooves to the Grateful Dead

Image of Mola.
A solar-powered robot modeled after the giant ocean sunfish swims gracefully through the water.YouTube / AeroVironment


A proof-of-concept solar-powered robot modeled after the giant ocean sunfish could one day serve as biological sensor capable of keeping tabs on the environment.

A video released this week by the robot’s maker, senior scientist Tom Zambrano at AeroVironment, shows it swimming in Pacific Ocean as it grooves to the Grateful Dead’s Bird Song.

The delightfully chill viewing experience provides a few details about the robot, called Mola, which is derived from the scientific name of the giant ocean sunfish, Mola mola.

The fish are the largest known bony fish. They will sometimes float to the ocean surface and bask on their long, flat sides. That behavior appears to be the inspiration for the robot.

Mola looks as if its little more than flat solar panel with fins. As shown in the video, solar panels can be attached to rear to make a flexible tail that supplies additional power.

The panels collect enough power from the sun to cruise through the water at 2 knots as a data logger records physical, chemical, and biological information.

We’ve reached out to Zambrano for additional information on the robot and will update if we learn more. 

For now, watch the video and enjoy the high notes from the Grateful Dead. Given Jerry Garcia’s fondness for scuba in his later years, the song selection for the video clip feels alright.

 – via IEEE 

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.