Researchers have spent years hunting for a more efficient way to track targets that travel underwater. While methods such as tagging dolphins or dispatching boats to take water samples are effective, they’re also expensive and labor-intensive. Now, the University of Washington’s Kristi Morgansen may have found a better solution: autonomous, robotic fish that could be dispatched to monitor everything from whales to pollution spills.
Still in the development phase, the so-called “robofish” measure about two feet in length, use a unique fishtail design for propulsion, and are being programmed to work together without being directed by humans. This would allow them to perform functions a single robot couldn’t do alone, such as tracking groups of animals or locating the boundaries of undersea chemical clouds.
Morgansen says challenges remain—she has struggled to come up with a wireless communication system that doesn’t overtax the robots’ batteries—but she is making progress. In a recent test, the robofish successfully moved together as a group, laying the groundwork for more sophisticated assignments. In fact, Morgansen has already cooked up their next mission: tail a remote-control shark. ❧
photo: ©Kathy Sauber, UW