Credit: G.L. Kohuth, Michigan State University
We've heard a lot about robotic fish over the last year, including that they'll patrol for pollution, and gather information to monitor climate change in the oceans. Michigan State University researchers are bringing another version of a robotic fish to the scene, having just received funding to move the project forward. However, these fish have some very life-like features. The researchers behind the project were awarded funding from the National Science Foundation to put their research into practice.
To mimic how fish swim and move around in the water, Xiaobo Tan, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering who is working on the project, builds "fins" for the robotic fish that work in the same way that fish use their muscles. The fins use electro-active polymers that change shape with the application of electricity. From the press release, "Similar to real muscle tissue, ion movements twist and bend the polymer when voltage is applied. The effect works in reverse, too - slender "feelers" could signal maneuvering circuits in a sort of electro-active central nervous system. Infrared sensors also could be used for "eyes" to avoid obstacles."
Once let out into open water, the fish can collect data to be used by researchers studying pollution and climate change effects of marine ecosystems. The broad range of data they'll collect will give scientists a full picture of the impact climate change is having on the oceans.
With so many robotic fish projects in the works, it seems like we'll have quite a bit of biotech-diversity among "species" of robotic fish out in the ocean, all collecting climate change data.
Outside of oceans, the researchers want these particular fish to be useful in freshwater environments as well; for instance, detecting toxic algal blooms, which are increasingly problematic.
So far, the researchers have devised a 9" prototype modeled on the yellow perch. The device needs to be improved so that it can resist strong currents and go in the direction it wants to go, including various depths of water. Once that is achieved, it'll be ready for the open ocean.