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Robot fish and chips to fight water pollution

Five robot fish will swim the Spanish seas as part of an EC-funded project to pinpoint sources of pollution, such as leaks from ships or underwater pipelines

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Topic: Innovation
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1 of 4 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

It looks like a fish and moves in an impressively piscine manner, but it doesn't smell like a fish. That's because the creature pictured above is in fact a robot.

Part of a three-year European Commission-funded project co-ordinated by BMT Group, a Teddington-based engineering and risk management consultancy, these autonomous battery-powered devices are shortly to be released into the sea for the first time to help combat water pollution. If you're planning on going fishing in the port of Gijón in northern Spain this summer, you may get more than you bargained for...

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2 of 4 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

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."

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3 of 4 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

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.

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4 of 4 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

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.

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