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Robot becomes a leader among fish

By

March 2, 2012

NYU-Poly's tail-flapping biomimetic fish

NYU-Poly's tail-flapping biomimetic fish

A couple of years ago, a team of scientists from the University of Leeds succeeded in getting live stickleback fish to follow a computer-controlled "Robofish" as it was moved through their aquarium. Part of the reason for the experiment was to learn about fish behavior, in hopes that human interference in their migration routes could be minimized. While the Robofish was simply a plaster model, researchers from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University recently conducted a similar experiment, but using an actual tail-flapping robotic fish. Their discoveries could help save wild fish populations in the event of environmental disasters.

The study was conducted by NYU-Poly's Maurizio Porfiri and Stefano Marras. Their biomimetic fish, as it was called, was placed in a tunnel of flowing water, along with a school of golden shiners. At first, the scientists kept its tail absolutely still, and the shiners showed little interest. As its tail began to move, however, the shiners started to fall in behind it.

Through varying the speed of its tail beats, the researchers noted that the tail beats of the following fish were always accordingly somewhat slower, which suggested that they were saving energy by riding in the slipstream of the robot. This falls in line with what has been observed in nature, where leading fish exhibit faster tail beats than the rest of the school.

It is hoped that in the future, descendants of the biomimetic fish could be used in natural settings, to lead groups of wild fish away from polluted areas or structures such as dams. Likewise, devices such as robotic birds could perhaps be used to lead other types of animals to safety.

"These experiments may open up new channels for us to explore the possibilities for robotic interactions with live animals - an area that is largely untapped," said Porfiri. "By looking to nature to guide our design, and creating robots that tap into animals' natural cues, we may be able to influence collective animal behavior to aid environmental conservation and disaster recovery efforts."

A paper on the research was recently published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Source: Polytechnic Institute of New York University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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9 Comments

Lead the fish right into the nets.

Slowburn
2nd March, 2012 @ 05:23 pm PST

...you want to help nature by manipulating it... mmhmm. Scuse me, but I think I trust nature to take care of it's own, rather than a bunch of foolish control freaks. Quit fooling yourselves...

b@man
2nd March, 2012 @ 07:57 pm PST

I see multiple nations trying to school fish into their territorial waters by adding more and more influencing robofish until the nets are clogged with machines. Maybe land robots can eat the robofish.

Snake Oil Baron
3rd March, 2012 @ 09:45 am PST

This is quite possibly one of the coolest articles I've read in awhile. Some people get so hung up on science - it's part of moving forward people!

Visalus Australia

Trevor Reichert
3rd March, 2012 @ 05:34 pm PST

When I first read this article, I saw its possible applications in diverting shoals from hazards such as oil spills. I read the comments, and saw its other possible application as a way to easily net down fish.

My point is, people will see technology for its benefits, and people will see it for its hazards. Both are obviously important, but I wish the world tried to see more good than evil.

Miyazaki Wataru
5th March, 2012 @ 12:49 am PST

Given the way fishing fleets have decimated the oceans with their drag nets and other technology, little good is likely to result from providing the already unscrupulous with more tools to divert and kill fish. This will happen as soon as the industry discovers the fish control abilities of the technology. If some alien species (rather than humans) were in control of the technology it might be beneficial, in human hands utterly impossible.

grtbluyonder
5th March, 2012 @ 06:32 am PST

So much potential for abuse.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
5th March, 2012 @ 07:24 am PST

These robofish could just as easily be used to guide specific schools of fish into nets. Could result in considerable fishing vessel fuel savings.

Larry Hooten
5th March, 2012 @ 11:00 am PST

No this technology will be used along with spotting planes and drift net boats to simply increase fishing quoters. The Japanese would love this technology, more than their love of understandable fishing and robotic gadgets combined. How good would it feel being the engineer who developed the technology that wiped out whole species of fish, thinking the whole time you were trying to save them?

Jugen
5th March, 2012 @ 01:28 pm PST
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