Paul Higgins: My first thought was “shark”
Spanish Government Deploys Robotic Fish to Monitor Maritime Pollution
Currently the port relies on divers to monitor water quality, which is a lengthy process costing €100,000 per year. The divers take water samples from hundreds of points in the port, then send them off for analysis, with the results taking weeks to return. By contrast, the SHOAL robots would continuously monitor the water, letting the port respond immediately to the causes of pollution, such as a leaking boat or industrial spillage, and work to mitigate its effects.
The SHOAL fish are one and a half metres long, comparable to the size and shape of a tuna, but their neon-yellow plastic shell means they are unlikely to be mistaken for the real thing. A range of onboard chemical sensors detect lead, copper and other pollutants, along with measuring water salinity.
They are driven by a dual-hinged tail capable of making tight turns that would be impossible with a propeller-driven robot. They are also less noisy, reducing the impact on marine life.
The robots are battery powered and capable of running for 8 hours between charges. At the moment the researchers have to recover them by boat, but their plan is that the fish will return to a charging station by themselves.
Working in a group, the fish can cover a 1 kilometre-square region of water, down to a depth of 30 metres. They communicate with each other and a nearby base-station using very low-frequency sound waves, which can penetrate the water more easily than radio waves. However, this means the fish have a low data transmission rate and can only send short, predefined messages. “It’s a good solution, but it requires thinking carefully about what data to transmit and how to use that data,” says Kristi Morgansen, a roboticist at the University of Washington, who was not involved in the research.