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Synchronized Swimming: Patrolling For Pollution with Robotic Fish

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Robotic fish

Xiaobo Tan takes a robotic fish for a test swim in a Michigan lake. Equipped with onboard sensors and wireless capabilities, the robofish will be used to patrol for algal blooms and oil spills in lakes, rivers, and oceans.

Credit: Courtesy of Freddie Alequin-Ramos

Michigan State University researchers want to develop robotic fish that can navigate underwater and patrol for pollution in oceans, lakes, and rivers.

The robots swim through water with tail fins that are made of electroactive polymers that move in response to electricity. "These materials are often referred to as artificial muscles because they change their shape in response to electrical stimulation, much like muscles do," says Michigan State's Xiaobo Tan.

The robot fish would be able to sense motion in the water, similar to the way real fish do. By combining several strips of artificial muscle together in sheets, the researchers were able to make flexible artificial fins that twist, curl, and bend in complex ways.

The researchers created the different parts for the robot fish on the computer, and then made multiple copies quickly and cheaply using a three-dimensional printer. Now, with U.S. National Science Foundation funding, the researchers are developing autonomous robofish that can swim in schools and navigate around obstacles with minimal human intervention.

From Scientific American
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