Aquatic Robots Are Taking Jobs from Hardworking Goldfish

Brian Heater
Tech Columnist
February 19, 2014

Walking through the 2014 Toy Fair in New York on Tuesday, I wasn’t really sure why the the robotics company HEXBUG had a tank full of fish at its booth. Things made a bit more sense when I got close and realized that the bowl was populated entirely by swimming robots in a rainbow of colors.

Aquabots, a new line of miniature robots from HEXBUG, look surprisingly like the real thing from afar, swimming around the tank like they own the place with lifelike maneuvers. They’re simple machines at their core, but then so are goldfish when you really get down to it.

The robots have sensors built in that activate their tails as soon as they detect liquid, so there’s no awkward fish-out-of-water flopping around beforehand. Once dropped in the tank, they’re clearly in their element. They swim, they dive, and when they’ve had enough of going one way, they switch directions.  

They’ve also got LEDs built in, which pulsate like a heartbeat when they’re in action, to further blur the line between the robots and their scaly real-life counterparts.

Unlike the real thing, however, these guys will go to sleep after five minutes of inactivity to save battery. You can wake them up by tapping the bowl, touching the fish or just running your hands through the water.

HEXBUG claims it made these choices to “get children to think about the science behind the robot.” If you’re looking to graduate your kids to real fish after a successful round with Aquabots, however, certain glass tapping and fish-touching behaviors will have to be unlearned.

The robots retail for around $15 — not a bad deal for the lifelike little creatures. Heck, I don’t even have kids, and I’ve spent the past day seriously considering picking up a couple of Aquabots and a bowl to liven up the apartment.

In the end, you’ll be saving a lot on fish food — and better yet, you won’t find yourself cleaning out a murky tank every couple of weeks. Also, HEXBUG offers up a hammerhead shark, which are pretty tough to come by in most pet shops these days.

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