Robotic fish shoal sniffs out pollution in harbours
28th May 2012
Something unnatural lurks in the waters of the port of Gijon, Spain, and researchers are tracking its every move. Not some bizarre new form of marine life, but an autonomous robotic fish designed to sense marine pollution, taking to the open waves for the first time!
"With these fish we can find exactly what is causing the pollution and put a stop to it right away," explains Luke Speller, a scientist at the British technology firm BMT and the leader of SHOAL, a European project involving universities, businesses and the port of Gijon, which have joined forces to create the fish.
At present the port relies on divers to monitor water quality. Alengthy process costing €100,000 per year. Divers take hundreds of water samples which are sent for analysis, with results taking weeks to return. By contrast, the SHOAL robots would continuously monitor the water, letting the port respond immediately to the causes of pollution, such as a leaking boat or industrial spillage, and work to mitigate its effects.
The SHOAL fish are one and a half metres long, comparable to the size and shape of a tuna, but their neon-yellow plastic shell means they are unlikely to be mistaken for the real thing. Onboard chemical sensors detect lead, copper and other pollutants, along with water salinity. They are driven by a dual-hinged tail capable of making tight turns that would be impossible with a propeller-driven robot.