By Rose Eveleth
Posting in Technology
Using biomimicry, researchers have convinced real fish to follow a robot. Understanding how to build robotic leaders could help scientists engineer Pied Pipers, to lead animals away from danger.
Researchers at NYU Polytechnic University have managed to trick live fish into following a robot around. Stefano Marras and Maurizio Porfiri built their fishy robot to mimic as closely as possible the behavior of the real things, particularly in the way the robot moves its tail.
Here’s how it works, according to the press release:
In nature, fish positioned at the front of a school beat their tails with greater frequency, creating a wake in which their followers gather. The followers display a notably slower frequency of tail movement, leading researchers to believe that the followers are enjoying a hydrodynamic advantage from the leaders’ efforts.
So the researchers put their robotic fish in the water with a bunch of fish called golden shiners to see how well they could imitate the leaders. When the robot stayed still, the fish didn’t care about it at all. But when they had the robot mimic that tail motion of the leader fish, other members of the school slowed down their tails and followed.
“These experiments may open up new channels for us to explore the possibilities for robotic interactions with live animals — an area that is largely untapped,” Porfiri said in the press release.
Figuring out how to lead fish around could eventually lead to ways scientists can lead animals away from harm or into new habitats.
Photo from NYU Polytechnic Institute
Mar 1, 2012
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A major problem caused by the fishing industry is "side kill", wherein species, which they don't want to catch get caught in their nets along with the specific fish they do want. The rest of these fish get rough handling and are thrown overboard, dead or dying. If specific species could be lead into pens (at sea or at the shore), the rest could be left unharmed to ensure the diversity (to some degree) of the fishing grounds.
Think fishing lure. Unless we can get people to fish for lion fish for food, perhaps another approach to ridding the Caribean of this devastating nuisance is to develop a robot Lion Fish to attract the real thing into a trap (for harvesting), or convince it to eat the robot (for execution), assuming that the robot bait can differentiate between a Lion Fish ingester and something else in which case it should pass harmlessly and undigested through the consumer and hope to be eaten another day by a Lion Fish. My apologies for the previous run-on sentence.
In animals, particularly sheep, that would be called a bellwether, typically an older female which all the other sheep follow as a leader. MANY potential uses, particularly if the effect can be somehow "tuned" to select for specific species within a larger mixed context -- "we want to treat all the clownfish on this stretch of reef for a specific parasite, let's move them all over ...there...". Or how about doing a population count: "lead all the sardines past the focus of this camera"...
The robot could also lead the fish into a net or the robot will most likely get eaten. I do like the idea of leading the fish to safety though.