This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

May 30, 2012

Robotic Fish Monitor Pollution

Imagine a 5-foot long yellow fish swimming through the shallow waters of Gijon Harbor in Spain. However, this fish is no marine animal. Rather, it is a well-equipped robot patrolling the waters of the harbor, looking for polluters.

A product of the technology consultancy BMT Group in the United Kingdom, this robo-fish works autonomously to find contamination in the water, then feeds the information back to shore. The company is part of the Shoal Consortium, a European Commission-funded group from academia and business.

Inspired by nature, the fish measure about 5-foot long and their movements closely mimic their real-life counterparts. They can work in very weedy environments. Ordinarily, environments like this would snag propellers. Because they swim like fish, they very agile and can change direction quickly.

Providing real-time monitoring of pollution, the fish work together to report if someone is dumping chemicals or something is leaking, so that they may address the problem right away. At this point, they are taking samples in the harbor about once a month. Eventually, the researchers hope to see robot fish swimming around the harbor all the time, constantly checking for pollution.

According to the researchers, there are other advantages to this fishy design, compared with some other autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The robo-fish do not use propellers or thrusters for propulsion; instead, they use the fish fins to propel themselves through the water.

Fins are particularly useful in shallow water, where there is debris. The fish use microelectrode arrays to sense contaminants. They can detect phenols* and heavy metals such as copper and lead, as well as monitor oxygen levels and salinity. Once the fish have detected a problem, they use artificial intelligence to hunt down the source of pollution.

These robo-fish are not the first in nature-inspired robots. Drones, used in warfare, are shaped like birds and robots, used to search for life in the debris after earthquakes, mimic rodents. Expect to see more nature-inspired robots to consistently handle all kinds of menial and repetitive that humans find less pleasant. These robots will be especially valuable in spaces and places that would be dangerous or inaccessible to people.

* Phenols are a type of pollutants, characterized as being estrogen-disruptors. ********

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