Why let a human handle a robot's job? Scientists at the University of Washington's Nonlinear Dynamics and Control Lab have developed a robot fish prototype, dubbed the "Fin Actuated Autonomous Underwater Vehicle," that will eventually be able to track marine life and monitor the spread of environmental contaminants -- particularly heavy metals and organics that occur in trace amounts. Kristi Morgansen, its inventor, is currently testing 3 robofish in her lab's swimming pool and hopes to carry out field trials in Puget Sound early next year, reports Discovery News' Eric Bland.
Each robofish is 20 in long, weighs just over 6 lbs and is equipped with pressure sensors, to monitor its depth, a 3D compass and acoustic transmitters that allows it to communicate wirelessly with other robofish. The robots, which swim by using a flapping tail, are powered by nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries -- the same battery technology found in Toyota's Prius and other hybrid vehicles.
Researchers will be unable to directly communicate with the robofish while they are underwater so the goal was to make them as autonomous as possible, Morgansen explains. Once they are dropped in the water, the fish will regularly resurface (approximately every 20 min) to transmit measurements to Morgansen and her colleagues using an embedded satellite link. In addition to downloading their data, the scientists can also upload new instructions to modify the fish's directives.
The robofish can run for roughly 6 months at a time before returning to home base or being retrieved by scientists from a boat. They could eventually provide a low cost, continuous monitoring system that will not only benefit researchers but also regulatory agencies such as the EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service. To see the fish in action, head over to the lab's website to peruse its extensive video gallery.
Via ::Discovery News: 'Talking' Robofish to Swim in Puget Sound (news website)