Electric Fish Robotics

Wednesdays@NICO Seminar, Noon, March 5, 2014, Chambers Hall, Lower Level

Professor Malcolm MacIver, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science


While we last lived underwater 350 million years ago, humanity is returning to the depths for a host of reasons: for energy such as oil, for health such as coral reef monitoring, and for pleasure. Despite this return, our underwater technology has evolved slowly and suffers from some key limitations in both the way information is acquired, and the way motion is accomplished. In this talk I’ll discuss the targeted replication of electric fish sensory and motion capabilities that myself and collaborators in the Neuroscience and Robotics Laboratory have done that can help resolve these issues. While this discipline is sometimes referred to bio-inspired robotics, I'll also show how some exciting fundamental science results have been inspired by the robots we’ve built, which could be called robo-inspired biology.


Professor MacIver is group leader in the Neuroscience and Robotics Laboratory at Northwestern University, where he is an Associate Professor with joint appointments between Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, and a courtesy appointment with the Department of Neurobiology. His work focuses on extracting key mechanistic principles underlying complex animal behavior, focusing on interactions between biomechanics, neuronal processing, and sensory system properties while animals are actively acquiring information. He then incorporates these mechanisms into advanced biorobotic systems, or large scale simulations on computing clusters, for synergy between technological and scientific advances. He received the 2009 Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering. MacIver has also developed interactive science-inspired art exhibits that have exhibited internationally, frequently consults for science fiction film makers in Hollywood, and spoke at the 2013 Caltech TEDx on ’The Brain’ about the evolution of planning and awareness.