These robo-fish autonomously form schools and work as search parties – ProWellTech

Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created a series of fish-shaped underwater robots that can autonomously navigate and find each other, cooperate to do tasks or just go to school together.

Just as aerial drones are proving useful in industry after industry, underwater drones could revolutionize ecology, navigation, and other areas where a persistent underwater presence is desirable but difficult.

Recent years have seen interesting new autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs, but the most common type is practically a torpedo – efficient for navigating open water, but not for making its way through the nooks and crannies of a reef or harbor. tourist.

To this end, it seems practical to see what Nature herself has seen fit to create, and the Wyss Institute has specialized in doing so and creating robots and machinery in imitation of the natural world.

In this case Florian Berlinger, Melvin Gauci and Radhika Nagpa, all co-authors of a new article published in Science Robotics, have decided to imitate not only the shape of a fish, but also the way it interacts with its peers.

Having been inspired by the sight of schools of fish during scuba diving, Nagpa pursued the question, “How do we create artificial agents that can demonstrate this kind of collective coherence where a whole collective appears to be a single agent?”

Scheme of a robot in the shape of a fish

Image credits: Berlinger et al., Science Robotics

Their answer, Blueswarm, is a collection of small 3D printed “Bluebots” in the shape of fish, with fins instead of propellers and cameras for the eyes. While neither you nor I are likely to mistake them for real fish, they are far less scary than an object for a normal fish to see than a six-foot metal tube with a noisily spinning propeller in the back. Bluebots also mimic nature’s bioluminescence innovation, lighting up with LEDs as some fish and insects do to signal others. The LED pulses change and adjust according to the location of each bot and the knowledge of its neighbors.

Using the simple senses of the cameras and a photosensor in the front, elementary swimming motions and LEDs, Blueswarm automatically organizes itself into group swimming behaviors, establishing a simple “milling” pattern that welcomes new robots when dropped by any angle.

Pictures showing how "bluebots" swarm intelligently and find yourself.

Image credits: Berlinger et al, Science Robotics

Robots can also work together on simple tasks, such as searching for something. If the group is given the task of finding a red LED in the tank they are in, each of them can look independently, but when one of them finds it, they alter their flashing LED to alert and summon the others.

It is not difficult to imagine the uses of this technology. These robots could approach coral reefs and other natural features safely without alarming marine life, monitoring their health, or looking for specific objects that their camera eyes could detect. Or they might wander under docks and ships inspecting hulls more efficiently than a single vessel can. Perhaps they could also be useful in search and rescue.

The research also improves our understanding of how and why animals swarm together in the first place.

With this research, we can not only build more advanced robot collectives, but also learn about collective intelligence in nature. Fish have to follow even simpler patterns of behavior when swimming in schools than our robots. This simplicity is so beautiful yet difficult to discover, “Berlinger said.” Other researchers have already contacted me to use my Bluebots as fish surrogates for biological studies of swimming and schooling of fish. The fact that they welcome Bluebots among their own. laboratory fish makes me very happy. “

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Olivia Wilde

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