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A team of researchers from Harvard University’s Wyss [veese] Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has created underwater fish robots.
Called the Bluebots, the robots are an imitation of blue tang fish, a species of small fish usually found in Indo-Pacific coral reefs. The 3D-printed Bluebots are about 10 centimeters long. They use cameras and LED lights to see and navigate, and their tiny fins help them maneuver through the water.
According to one researcher, the team got inspiration for the Bluebots when they saw a school of fish while scuba diving. They were fascinated by the fish swimming together without explicit communication, and they wanted to replicate this behavior in the lab.
Designer Florian Berlinger said the robots are capable of grouping together or dispersing as needed with little to no interaction from human controllers. Bluebots can navigate independently by calculating their neighbors’ distance and direction.
They are also capable of cooperating to complete tasks. For instance, a group may be assigned to find a red LED in their tank. Each Bluebot can search independently, but when one of them finds the red LED, that robot sends a signal to call the others.
Berlinger said that other researchers had reached out to him about possibly using the Bluebots for studies about fish swimming and schooling. He said that it makes him happy to hear that they are open to the idea of including his invention among their laboratory fish.
In the future, Berlinger expects that these robots could closely monitor fragile environments, such as coral reefs, without harming marine life. The Bluebots could also explore underneath docks and other spaces that humans cannot reach, and may even be helpful in locating people in distress during search-and-rescue missions.