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Inspired by how fishing schools intuitively synchronize their movements, Harvard researchers have designed miniature underwater robots capable of forming autonomous swarms.
Each robotic fish, known as a “Bluebot”, is equipped with cameras and blue LED lights that detect the direction and distance to others inside water tanks.
They swim using clapping fins instead of propellers, which improves their efficiency and maneuverability compared to standard underwater drones.
Other applications may include environmental monitoring or infrastructure inspection.
Existing underwater multi-robot systems rely on individual robots communicating with each other via radio and transmitting their GPS positions.
The new system moves closer to mimicking the fish’s natural behavior, which shows complex, coordinated behavior without following a leader.
The 3D-printed robots are approx. 10 centimeters long, and their design was partly inspired by Blue Seaweed fish, which are native to the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific.
The robots use their “eyes” on the camera to detect other robots in their peripheral vision and then engage in self-organizing behaviors, which include flashing their lights simultaneously, arranging themselves in a circle, and gathering around a target.
Berlinger described a test in which the robots were spread out over a water tank to find a light source.
When one of the robots found the light, it sent a signal to the others to gather around in a demonstration of a search and rescue mission.
“Other scientists have already reached out to me to use my Bluebots as fishing surrogates for biological studies of fishing swimming and schooling,” Berlinger said, explaining that robot collectives can help us learn more about collective intelligence in nature.
He hopes to improve the design so that it does not require LEDs and can be used outside laboratory settings as in coral reefs.
© 2021 AFP