Are robots the future? Or will humans never accept them in their lives? It’s the question that pops into everybody’s head when thinking about robots. But equally as important to the future of these intelligent machines is their capability to communicate with animals. Will animals ever interact with robots?
It appears they do. Researchers from Polytechnic Institute of New York University found that fish are even willing to accept a robot as their new leader. They demonstrated this by putting a robot fish in a water tunnel; by flicking its tail in an almost natural way, they were able to prompt a school of real fish to follow it.
The two researchers, Stefano Marras and Maurizio Porfiri, already knew how to make a good impression on the animals. Earlier studies of natural fish showed that leaders of a school move their tail quicker than the ones behind, thereby creating a wake that benefits the less effective swimmers: the followers.
The robot fish of Marras and Porfiri could move its tail so energetically that a school of so called golden shiners automatically wanted to swim behind it. It was clear that it was this swimming movement that gave him his attractiveness: when holding still in the water no fish paid him any attention.
What can we do with this new information? Save the fish, say the researchers. Robot fish can possibly steer their schools away from disasters or obstacles such as leaking oil or dams. And in a more distant future, the same trick could even be repeated using robot birds.
Marras S, & Porfiri M (2012). Fish and robots swimming together: attraction towards the robot demands biomimetic locomotion. Journal of the Royal Society, Interface / the Royal Society, 9 (73), 1856-68 PMID: 22356819