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Five robotic fish are being built — at a cost of around £20,000 each — by Professor Huosheng Hu and his team at the University of Essex's School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering. They are equipped with chemical sensors, designed to locate the sources of potentially dangerous pollutants such as leaks from ships or underwater pipelines.
Rory Doyle, senior research scientist at BMT Group, explained the reasoning behind the ultra-realistic form factor: "In using robotic fish we are building on a design created by hundreds of millions of years' worth of evolution, which is incredibly energy efficient. This efficiency is something we need to ensure that our pollution-detection sensors can navigate in the underwater environment for hours on end."
The diagram above explains in broad terms how the fishy robot system will work. Strategically located 'charging hubs' replenish the fishes' batteries and collect sensor data via a Wi-Fi connection. Port authorities will then be able to monitor and map pollution events in real time.
The robot fish are no tiddlers: they measure 1.5m long and swim at about a metre per second. At £20,000 a go, let's hope they are not so realistic that a passing shark, for example, decides to take an exploratory bite.
Images of robot fish courtesy of UPPA.