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Marine life in danger? Robo Fish to the rescue!

Energy e-fish-ient. Meet Robo Fish. (Image: Pablo Valdivia Alvarado)

Energy e-fish-ient. Meet Robo Fish. (Image: Pablo Valdivia Alvarado)

Marine life needs a hero. In the absence of tiny capes and secret identities for the fish that live around Singapore, researchers have developed Robo Fish – a soft robot that will go undercover with the sealife, and send early warning signs to scientists if the water gets too toxic for its living, breathing compatriots.

After an algal bloom killed more than 500 tonnes of local fish off the coast of Singapore, scientists from the country developed Robo Fish to help prevent future incidents. Researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART – yes, we’re sure they found the acronym first, and then worked backwards) have packed the fake fish with sensors to measure pollutants and other environmental factors that could be hazardous to the local marine population.

Ocean waters are currently analyzed by samples gathered by hand or from autonomous robots, but these fake fish will blend in a little more, if nothing else.

All the electronics that control and power Robo Fish are contained within a single silicon body, making it both cheaper and more maneuverable than traditional robots. Indeed, Pablo Valdivia Alvarado – a research scientist at SMART – told International Business Times that one “could produce 10 or even 100 of ours” for the cost of a current sea-assessing robot. On top of that, the silicon body means that air bubbles can’t affect inner components, allowing the fish to swim to deeper depths without being hit by the subsequent increased pressure.

Robo Fish took inspiration directly from nature – specifically octopuses and stingrays. The result is that the Robo Fish designs the researchers have come up with is like a ‘aqua dream team’: “By finding interesting ideas in nature, we can take the bits we like and extend the physics to adapt them to our engineering applications,” explained Alvarado.

You can see how a robotic stingray moves in the video below. If it’s convincing enough to fool us, we’re pretty sure its future neighbors won’t sense anything amiss, but we’ll know for sure when trials begin in Singapore later this year.

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