In the 1990s, the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Office of Advanced Technologies and Programs started conducting some fish-focused research to study the feasibility of creating an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) and that is when “Charlie the Catfish” robot was created for intelligence collection purposes.
Unlike a real Catfish who eats the waste and other fishes on the bottom of freshwater lakes and streams, the CIA catfish Charlie was an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) designed to surreptitiously collect water samples. Charlie was given orders about its missions (to collect water samples without being detected) by a wireless line-of-sight radio handset.
Now you must be wondering how the collection of water samples can benefit the CIA? As per Janelle, Director of the CIA Museum, “say you’re interested in a group and you wanted to learn more about them. You can deploy Charlie into a river, he would swim upstream and collect a water sample, bring it back to CIA, and now our scientists can test it to see if there things like, nuclear run off or a biochemical agents present in the water. And now, thanks to Charlie, you have a better understanding of what’s going on in that specific place.
Most of the details about the construction of Charlie is unknown except that it was 61 cm in length, 28 cm in width and had a height of 18 cm. Also, its body contained a pressure hull, ballast system, and communications system, while its tail housed the propulsion.
The CIA built its robotic catfish with speed, endurance, maneuverability, depth control, navigational accuracy, autonomy, and communications status. But here is a fun fact, as per CIA, Charlie was never used operationally! Well, do you know why? Let us know in the comments section.
Here are two videos by the CIA describing the purpose, specifications and other details of the Charlie: CIA’s robotic fish.