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Robots come in all shapes and sizes these days. From mini cockroach-inspired bots to the well-known Spot the robot dog, they all perform various duties for various corporations. 

And the CIA is no exception. The CIA developed and used a robotic catfish named Charlie, which was an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) set out to collect water samples. 

Charlie came to fruition thanks to research carried out by the CIA’s Office of Advanced Technologies and Programs, which was focusing on aquatic robotic studies dating back to the nineties.

What Charlie the catfish robot did

Some of Charlie’s specifications included speed, endurance, maneuverability, depth control, navigational accuracy, autonomy, and communications status. 

The “fish” had a pressure hull, ballast system, and communications system within the main part of its body and a propulsion system in its tail. 

Back in 2012, the CIA shared a short and informative video on YouTube about Charlie the robotic catfish, and once it’s swimming in water, it’s hard to tell it’s a robot and not the real deal. The main difference is that Charlie measures 24 inches (61 cm), whereas the real fish can measure up to 60 inches (1.5 meters) long, or more. 

Unfortunately, as Charlie the robot catfish’s missions are still classified, no public information about what it gathered during its missions can be shared.

Regardless, it’s still a cool robot fish concept.

Research about how robots could navigate and gather intel from underwater began in earnest in the 1950s. Spectrum IEEE explains that it began with the U.S. Navy giving funds towards developing technology for deep-sea rescue and salvage missions. On top of that, sea drones were also looked into for surveillance and scientific data collection. 

So much of our oceans can’t be accessed by crewed missions, so it’s easy to see how robots could do the job. However, it’s not as simple as developing a robot and popping it into the water. Developing robots costs time and money, and losing them to the waves isn’t an option when or if batteries run out, or a malfunction happens. 

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