Screengrab via YouTube video
Nope, it's not a robotic fish. At least, not like what we've covered before. Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have been awarded nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation to create a whole new kind of robot, or rather robots. Lots of little robots that will collect lots of location-specific data that will help scientists learn more about marine ecosystems. But do we want lots of little floating robots in the oceans? Check out the video explaining why the scientists feel this will do far more good for marine ecosystems than harm. Physorg reports, "While oceanographers have been skilled in detailing broad ocean processes, a need has emerged to zero in on functions unfolding at the small scale. By more clearly defining localized currents and focused data about temperature, salinity, pressure and biological properties, Jaffe and Franks believe [autonomous underwater explorers] AUEs will offer new and valued information about a range of oceanic phenomena."
The hope for the robots is that they'll be able to track very specific information about areas, such as what's happening in marine protected areas, the health of nursery habitats, algae blooms and the dead zones they create, and other uses.
When you hear about tiny robots created to fill the oceans, you can't help but connect a line to the issue we're having with animals eating hunks of plastic floating in the Pacific Trash Vortex and elsewhere. What's to stop marine life from eating these bits of swimming robots? Some will be about soccer-ball sized, and they won't look like fish, which will make them less tempting for predators than the robotic fish currently being created. But these are just the "mothership" AUEs - others will be much smaller, floating along currents and transmitting information back to the larger AUEs. The smaller AUEs will be the ones to watch, ensuring they stay out of the bellies of hungry marine animals.
Oh, and did we mention they want school children to build the devices? Let's strip away the impression of child labor, and instead look at it as a cool way to get kids interested in marine biology and technology.
"During the initial pilot phase of the project, Jaffe and members of his laboratory will build five or six of the soccer-ball-sized explorers and 20 of the smaller versions. An outreach component of the project will enlist school children to build and ultimately deploy AUEs."
Tiny swarms of robots helping us understand the tiniest bits of our oceans - from plankton to temperature... It has the potential to be great, though putting more tiny things in the ocean doesn't sound terribly appetizing.
More on Ocean Robots
WatCleaner Robot Is the Roomba for the Ocean
New Deep Sea Robot Helping Us Understand Climate Change
Biomimetic Robotic Fish Boosts Submersible Efficiency for Studying Ocean Life, Pollution
Pollution-Patrolling Robotic Fish Have "Muscle" Movement Like Real Fish