Inspired by the way schools of fish intuitively synchronize their movements, Harvard scientists designed miniature underwater robots capable of forming autonomous swarms.
Each robotic fish, known as the Bluebot, is equipped with cameras and blue LED lights that sense the direction and distance of others inside the water tanks.
They swim using flapping fins rather than propellers, which improves their efficiency and maneuverability over standard underwater drones.
“It’s really useful for future applications – for example a deep sea search mission where you want to find people in distress and rescue them quickly,” said Florian Berlinger, lead author of a research article. appeared in Science Robotics on Wednesday.
Other applications could include environmental monitoring or infrastructure inspection.
Existing submarine multi-robot systems rely on individual robots communicating with each other by radio and transmitting their GPS positions.
The new system comes close to imitating the natural behavior of fish, which show complex and coordinated behavior without following a leader.
The 3D printed robots are approximately 10 centimeters (4 inches) long and their design was in part inspired by the Blue Tang fish that are native to the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific.
The robots use their camera “eyes” to detect other robots in their peripheral vision, then engage in self-organizing behavior, which includes simultaneous flashing of their lights, organizing in a circle, and gathering. around a target.
Berlinger described a test in which the robots were spread over a water tank to search for a source of light.
When one of the robots found the light, it sent a signal for the others to assemble, in a demonstration of a search and rescue mission.
“Other researchers have contacted me before to use my Bluebots as fish substitutes for biological studies on swimming and schooling fish,” said Berlinger, explaining that robot collectives can help us learn more about collective intelligence in nature.
He hopes to improve the design so that it doesn’t require LEDs and can be used outside of laboratory settings such as in coral reefs.
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