Science Scope

Robot fish can be just as convincing as the real thing

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

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Rose Eveleth

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Rose Eveleth is a freelance writer, producer and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, OnEarth, Discover, New York Times, Story Collider and Radiolab. She holds degrees from the University of California, San Diego and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure