Robot Fish Sheds Light on Fish Behavior
I always think it's cool when I hear stories of how our human-made techonology can help us understand the natural world. It's somehow ironic when something as unnatural as a robot can show us what's going on with living creatures. Even better when techonology can be applied to help protect wildlife. That's the case with an awesome robot that is being used to study the behavior of schooling fish.
In an effort to gain understanding of collective animal behavior, specifically among animals that form large schools, flocks or herds, scientists at Polytechnic Institute of New York University created a robot fish and introduced it to a school of fish called golden shiners.
What they learned might end up being invaluable in protecting wildlife from disasters.
Science Daily reports:
"The researchers designed their bio-inspired robotic fish to mimic the tail propulsion of a swimming fish, and conducted experiments at varying tail beat frequencies and flow speeds. In nature, fish positioned at the front of a school beat their tails with greater frequency, creating a wake in which their followers gather. The followers display a notably slower frequency of tail movement, leading researchers to believe that the followers are enjoying a hydrodynamic advantage from the leaders' efforts.
In an attempt to create a robotic leader, [the researches] placed their robot in a water tunnel with a golden shiner school. First, they allowed the robot to remain still, and unsurprisingly, the "dummy" fish attracted little attention. When the robot simulated the familiar tail movement of a leader fish, however, members of the school assumed the behavior patterns they exhibit in the wild, slowing their tails and following the robotic leader....
The researchers posit that robotic leaders could help lead fish and other wildlife that behave collectively -- including birds -- away from toxic situations such as oil or chemical spills or human-made dangers such as dams. Other experimenters have found success in prompting wildlife to move using non-living attractants, but the researchers believe this is the first time that anyone has used biomimetics to such effect."
Here's another great example of how a robot fish is helping us understand the natural world.
Photo of robot fish by Polytechnic Institute of New York University via Science Daily.