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Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created a set of fish-shaped underwater robots that can autonomously navigate and find each other, cooperating to perform tasks or just placidly school together.
Just as aerial drones are proving themselves useful in industry after industry, underwater drones could revolutionize ecology, shipping, and other areas where a persistent underwater presence is desirable but difficult.
Although neither you nor I is likely to mistake these for actual fish, they’re far less scary of an object for a normal fish to see than a six-foot metal tube with a propeller spinning loudly in the back.
The Bluebots also imitate nature’s innovation of bioluminescence, lighting up with LEDs the way some fish and insects do to signal others.
The LED pulses change and adjust depending on each bot’s position and knowledge of its neighbors.
The robots can also work together on simple tasks, like searching for something.
Or they could meander around underneath docks and ships inspecting hulls more efficiently than a single craft can.
The research also advances our understanding of how and why animals swarm together in the first place.
With this research, we cannot only build more advanced robot collectives, but also learn about collective intelligence in nature.
Fish must follow even simpler behavior patterns when swimming in schools than our robots do.
“Other researchers have reached out to me already to use my Bluebots as fish surrogates for biological studies on fish swimming and schooling.
The fact that they welcome Bluebot among their laboratory fish makes me very happy.”
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