(This article was originally published on OceanLines on June 6, 2008.)
If University of Washington scientist Kristi Morgansen’s work pans out, a school of cooperatively communicating robot fish could help track whales, pollution slicks, or other mobile targets of scientific interest. Over the past five years, she has built three “Robofish” that communicate with one another underwater.
The Robofish use low-frequency sonar to communicate with each other. This communication ability means they won’t have to surface to coordinate their actions and can stay submerged until their task is complete. Potential work for a school of Robofish could be to cooperatively track groups of whales, explore caves, under-ice regions or work in otherwise dangerous environments. Tracking plumes of pollution, or perhaps blooms of plankton or algae, might also be possible.
The Robofish are roughly the size of a 10-pound salmon and look fish-like because they use fins rather than propellers. Research conducted in UW labs suggests the fins make them potentially more maneuverable and more efficient due to lower drag when compared to propeller-driven autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).
Participating in the initial tests of the Robofish with Morgansen were UW doctoral students Daniel Klein and Benjamin Triplett in aeronautics and astronautics, and UW graduate student Patrick Bettale in electrical engineering. The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. A more detailed article by UW Engineering Writer Hannah Hickey is here. Photos courtesy of University of Washington.
Copyright © 2008 Thomas M. Tripp