The next generation of robots might be squishier, safer and more life-like than ever. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a robotic fish that swim just like the real thing and “can interact safely and closely with humans."

Daniela Rus, a professor of computer science and engineering and director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, explains in a video interview how MIT’s robotic fish work. It’s a “soft robot,” meaning its body is made of a material that is flexible, in this case silicone rubber, and doesn’t have defined joints. Its body continuously distorts giving the machines an “infinite range of configurations.”

“This is not achievable with machines that are hinged,” Rus said in a statement.

The robotic fish can replicate a high-speed maneuver used by real-life fish to evade prey called the C-turn. The move is pulled off in just a fraction of a second.

MIT’s fish is powered by an internal canister of carbon dioxide, which causes certain channels in the fish’s body to inflate, causing the tail to bend in the opposite direction. Performed in rapid succession, these movements propel the fish forward and can allow it to make hairpin turns like those performed by real fish. Researchers say the robotic fish can perform 20 to 30 escape maneuvers.

"This could be the ultimate exploration tool for the underwater world," Rus told Boston Business Journal. "It could create the ultimate underwater observatory where we could look into this world that we have no access to today."

Details of the robotic fish appear in the first issue of the journal Soft Robotics. Watch the fish in action in this video from MIT uploaded to YouTube