Robotic fish can be used for a wide range of applications, ranging from gathering underwater images for scientific usage, monitoring of the waters’ health conditions to fight pollution, or even underwater surveillance.
But if there is one thing they can not really do, it is being recognized by other fish as one of them. The often unnatural motion, as well as size and color, may end up scaring away other fish and cause them to turn their electronic cousin into an outcast.
All this seems to be in the past now, thanks to a research project that scientists from the University of Leeds are working on. The British researchers have created a robot fish which looks like a common stickleback fish.
This robot, aptly named Robofish, is connected to a stand through a small rigid tube, and below the stand is a small magnet. By placing another magnet on the outside of the glass and moving it, the stand that keeps the fish in place will move, and our friend Robofish will seem to be freely swimming in its tank.
Once placed in a tank with real fish, it has been programmed to move according to a preset route, at a speed slightly higher than other fish of this species. The live fish immediately followed him, first one by one and then in groups, as for them, speed is considered as a sign of strength and self-assurance, which causes them to see their robotic friend as a leader, especially if they are in a new environment. In fact, once they are accustomed to their new tank, they tend to follow it much less.
The experiment might lead to interesting developments not only for monitoring conditions of water, but also to study the fishes’ migratory routes and the effect that human intervention might have on these routes.