Electric Amazon Fish Inspire Underwater Robotics
Electric fish from South America are opening up new ideas in robotics.
Ghost knifefish, as they are known, put a small current through the water to sense their environment, and undulate a long fin to move around. Scientists at Northwestern University, US, believe both features could be harnessed in a new class of autonomous underwater vehicles. They are developing robots that will be able to swim around debris in total darkness, such as inside a sunken ship.
"Today, we don't really have underwater robots that work well in really cluttered conditions or in conditions where vision isn't useful," said Prof Malcolm MacIver. "Just consider the sunken cruise ship. It is very dangerous to send divers into such situations where the water can be very cloudy. But we can learn from the electric fish. They don't use vision to hunt at night in the rivers of the Amazon basin, and their movement through the cluttered root masses and flooded forests requires incredible precision. They fit a big hole in terms of our capabilities in underwater robots."
Prof MacIver was explaining his work here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).