Washington, June 7 : Researchers at the University of Washington have created three fish-like robots that use their fins for propulsion, and communicate wirelessly with one another underwater.
Kristi Morgansen, an assistant professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, says that she has been successful in programming the robots to either swim in one direction or another - basic tasks that can provide the building blocks for co-ordinated group movement.
She believes that her prototypes, roughly the size of a 10-pound salmon, can lay the foundation for more efficient robots that would be capable of exploring remote ocean environments.
"Underwater robots don't need oxygen. The only reason they come up to the surface right now is for communication," says Morgansen, adding that her robots do not need to come to the surface until their task is complete.
Although the low-frequency sonar pulses used for sending messages between the robots during the study could communicate only half the information successfully, they were still able to accomplish their tasks because of the way they had been programmed.
The researchers envisions that someday schools of ocean-going robots may co-operatively track moving targets underwater like groups of whales and spreading plumes of pollution, explore caves and underneath ice-covered waters, and provide useful information while in dangerous environments where surfacing might not be possible.
"In schooling and herding animals, you can get much more efficient manoeuvres and smoother behaviours than what we can do in engineering right now. The idea of these experiments (with schools of live fish) is to ask, 'How are they doing it?' and see if we can come up with some ideas," Morgansen said.
With that end in mind, the researchers are now using the fish's coordination ability to do a task more similar to what they would face in the ocean.
Beginning this summer, the first assignment that the Robofish pack will be given would be to trail a remote-controlled toy shark.
Morgansen unveiled her prototypes at the International Federation of Automatic Control's Workshop on Navigation, Guidance and Control of Underwater Vehicles.