Monday, March 23, 2009

Autonomous Robotic Fish Being Built to Detect Pollution

A team of U.K. researchers have developed robotic fish that they plan to use to detect pollution. The researches plan a trial of five robotic fish in the northern Spanish port of Gijon. If successful, they hope to use the fish in waterways worldwide.

Unlike earlier models, which had to be remotely-controlled, these new carp-shaped robots are autonomous. They cost $29,000 each, and are equipped with sensors to detect potentially hazardous pollutants. Data will be transmitted back to the shore using wi-fi.

Before anyone says anything, yes, standard wi-fi such as you might find in a home or business, has a limited range. But the actual transmission of data will take place via wi-fi at the charging hub, which the fish will return to when their batteries are low.

Batteries need recharging approximately every eight hours.
Rory Doyle, senior research scientist at engineering company BMT Group, which developed the robot fish with researchers at Essex University, said:
"While using shoals of robotic fish for pollution detection in harbours might appear like something straight out of science fiction, there are very practical reasons for choosing this form.

"In using robotic fish we are building on a design created by hundreds of millions of years' worth of evolution which is incredibly energy efficient. This efficiency is something we need to ensure that our pollution detection sensors can navigate in the underwater environment for hours on end.

"We will produce a system that allows the fish to search underwater, meaning that we will be able to analyse not only chemicals on the surface of the water (e.g. oil) but also those that are dissolved in the water."
Scientists hope to put the fish "to sea" by the end of 2010. The five fish are being built by Professor Huosheng Hu and his robotics team at the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex. Professor Hu said:
"I am incredibly excited about this project. We are designing these fish very carefully to ensure that they will be able to detect changes in environmental conditions in the port and pick up on early signs of pollution spreading, for example by locating a small leak in a vessel.

"The hope is that this will prevent potentially hazardous discharges at sea, as the leak would undoubtedly get worse over time if not located."
Watch a short video that shows the motion of the fish.


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