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The adventures of Bassbot

NSF Award:

NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology for FY 2011  (Kenaley Christopher P)

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A robotic fish head, developed by a pair of Harvard University scientists, faithfully models the feeding behavior of suction-generating fish. The robot isolates how components of complex muscular and skeletal systems contribute to feeding performance.

To generate suction, the fish expand their mouths through rapid movement of several complex, anatomical units in their head. Current understanding of this process is based on detailed anatomical descriptions and feeding experiments with live specimens. Because of the complexity of the anatomy and timing of movements, identifying the precise contribution of each unit or their principal parts remains elusive.

To find answers to these challenges, the Harvard researchers fabricated a robotic model of the head of a large-mouth bass. The robotic system permits precise control of important aspects of the model, including shape, range of motion and timing. "Bassbot" experiments reveal that expansion of the mouth floor accounts for over half the suction generated in a feeding event, a result that represents the first quantification of performance for an isolated unit in the fish head.

Studies using the head's mechanical units will reveal how some 30,000 species of fish acquire food.


  • a robotic model of the head of a largemouth bass
Researchers use "Bassbot" to study factors influencing fish feeding.
Christopher Kenaley, Harvard University

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