When visiting the beach in northern Spain, don’t be surprised to spot a large, yellow fish cutting through the waves. Not a rare, tropical swimmer, but a fish made of carbon fibre and metal. Yesterday in the Gijon harbor, a fleet of robotic fish splashed into service to hunt down contamination in the water, feeding this information back to the shore. The robots are scientists’ latest weapon in the war against pollution.
“The idea is that we want to have real-time monitoring of pollution, so that if someone is dumping chemicals or something is leaking, we can get to it straight away, find out what is causing the problem and put a stop to it,” explains Luke Speller to the BBC, a scientist at British consultancy BMT Group who led the project.
The invention is inspired by nature: the machines swim like real fish, using fins for propulsion. Micro-electrode arrays make them able to sniff various contaminants , which can be modified to look for various substances, according to the BBC. Right now they can detect phenols, heavy metals, oxygen levels and water salinity.
The fish can work alone or in a team, communicating with each other using acoustic signals. Once they’ve discovered a problem, the fish use artificial intelligence to hunt down the source of pollution, which can be ships or undersea pipelines, and transmit their readings back to a shore station up to a kilometer away.
After the trials at Gijon, the team will look at modifications needed to move the prototype of the robotic fish into a commercial product. For the future, the scientist have in mind to turn the robots into true multitaskers, “robots that can do search and rescue, monitoring for underwaters divers, at the same time as tracking pollution”.
Photo via News Daily (REUTERS/SHOAL Consortium/Handout)