These robots can fool shoals of fish into thinking they are their ‘leader’ and have in tests changed the direction the group swims in.
They might look like a child’s toys, but these robotic fish could one day save the lives of thousands of undersea creatures.
The prototypes fool shoals of fish into thinking they are their ‘leader’ and have in tests changed the direction the group swims in.
Their success is not down to their comical appearance – especially the eyebrows – but rather the way in which they mimic the movement of their real-life cousins.
Researchers say that the robots could in the future be deployed in water which has been affected by a toxic spill to lead marine life away from danger.
They could also help them to steer clear of man-made obstacles like undersea turbines.
The robotic fish were developed by Dr Maurizio Porfiri, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.
He said that normally mankind takes inspiration from nature to improve itself, but this time he wanted to better the lot of aquatic animals.
‘Studies of schools of fish, flocks of birds and herds of animals have inspired robotic systems designed for our own applications,’ he said.
‘But I wanted to see if I could close the gap, bringing some of those benefits back into the natural world.
‘Schooling fish have a rich system of information sharing,’ he told Livescience.com.
‘They decide when to school based on a wide variety of factors, including vision and pressure cues from other fish.
‘By studying these cues, we can learn how school members recognise – and follow – a leader.’
The first generation of the robotic fish hardly resembled what they were supposed to, but that did not matter so long as they were able to swim like the real thing.
Tests showed that the robot was able to track, follow and mill with the other fish in such as way as to influence their behaviour.
So far Dr Porfiri has only been able to design creatures which swim on the surface of the water, but he hopes to soon make models which can dive and resurface.
His research was paid for by the prestigious U.S. National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development award.
Via Daily Mail