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"Reservoir Bots" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Michigan State University researchers have designed robots that, in the future, could be ocean-going and cooperatively track moving targets underwater. Schools of swimming robots would be able to work together to do things that one could not do alone, such as tracking large herds of animals or mapping expanses of pollution that can grow and change shape.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(SOUND EFFECT: undersea sci fi music) The Underwater Adventures of Robofish.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Robofish -- ok, like some kind of cyber salmon? High tech tuna? Mechanical mahi mahi? Well, not really. The futuristic fish being developed by Michigan State University researchers will be packed with sensors sort of fish and 'chips.' These strange creatures may eventually 'see' using infrared eyes. Schools of them could provide us with a new level of underwater environmental data to help us keep tabs on things like temperature, pollutants, oxygen levels and harmful algae.

Right now there's only one robofish -- the prototype is only 9 inches long, but it's a keeper. It's modeled after a perch. His home is a tank in the lab 'cause he's not yet ready for big currents. The team is working on future robofish that navigate, maneuver, and communicate with each other as well as with the docking station. They could be able to operate autonomously for months at a time, surfacing at programmed intervals.

As climate change and other forces disrupt aquatic environments, these faux-fish-on-a-mission should be able to give us a more 'in-depth' method of monitoring. Borrowing from nature, it took expertise in the fields of electrical and computer engineering, zoology, materials science and even art to 'spawn' this idea.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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