Robot Fish Sniffs Out Underwater Pollution
May 23, 2012

Robot Fish Sniffs Out Underwater Pollution

Michael Harper for

The latest advancement in pollution-seeking technology looks like a fish and swims like a fish, but gathers data like a robot. These pollution-hungry robot fish are the product of research from British BMT Group and SHOAL research and are now be studied as they swim the seas of Gijon, Spain.

Luke Speller – who plays dual roles as SHOAL Project Leader and Senior Research Scientist for BMT Group – said of the research:

“SHOAL has introduced the capability of cutting the detection and analysis of pollutants in sea water time from weeks to just a few seconds. Chemical sensors fitted to the fish permit real-time in-situ analysis, rather than the current method of sample collection and dispatch to a shore based laboratory. Furthermore, the Artificial Intelligence which has been introduced means that the fish can identify the source of pollution enabling prompt and more effective remedial action.”

Currently, in order to monitor the water quality in the port of Gijon, divers are sent to take analyses and samples from hundreds of points in the port. This process is not only costly, but also lengthy, as the results can take weeks to return.

The SHOAL fish, however, could continuously swim the waters, discovering pollution and sending important data to port authorities instantly, allowing them to respond immediately to boat spillage and other forms of pollution.

According to the BMT Group, 5 recent areas of major development have led up to these swimming robots, including Artificial intelligence, chemical analysis, hydrodynamics, robotic design and underwater communication.

Each of the robot fishes are outfitted with an array of sensors which can detect copper, lead and other pollutants as well as help them navigate the open waters.

As such, these neon-yellow robotic fish – about the size of a regular tuna – can manage through multiple scenarios. Not only can these fish find and report pollution, they can also keep a safe distance away from other fish, report their location and the location of pollution and return to their base stations at the end of the day to be recharged.

The fishes´ batteries are said to last about 8 hours between charges, and their internal mechanics make them quiet, so as not to disturb the surrounding marine life.

SHOAL and the BMT Group took extra care to ensure these robots did not interrupt everyday life for the surrounding environment, allowing everything to carry on naturally as if the fish weren´t there.

These robot fish work together in groups, covering a square-kilometer area of water to detect and report pollution, all the way down to 30 meters. The fish then report this information back to their base station using low-frequency sound waves, which can travel through water more easily than radio waves.

“SHOAL has seen the coming together of scientists from across Europe to create a system that could not have been achieved without collaboration between different disciplines," said Speller.

“One of the greatest achievements of SHOAL is getting robots running outside the lab and in the harsh, dynamic conditions of the sea. Autonomously exploring and investigating the harbor, the fish can work together to monitor and track down sources of pollution.”

In the future, the fish could also be outfitted to perform rescue and security duties, as well.

“I like to see the fish as platform for other things that can be done in the sea, such as search and rescue, helping divers, and port security.”