Nature inspires technology for an engineer and an ecologist teamed up at Michigan State University. They're developing robots that use advanced materials to swim like fish to probe underwater environments.
"Fish are very efficient," explained Xiaobo Tan, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. "They can perform very efficient locomotion and maneuvering in the water."
Robotic fish – perhaps schools of them operating autonomously for months – could give researchers far more precise data on aquatic conditions, deepening our knowledge of critical water supplies and habitats.
Tan and Elena Litchman, an assistant professor of zoology based at MSU's Kellogg Biological Station on Gull Lake in Kalamazoo County, recently won funding from the National Science Foundation to integrate their research.
"The robotic fish will be providing a consistent level of data that hasn't been possible before," Litchman explained. "With these patrolling fish we will be able to obtain information at an unprecedentedly high spatial and temporal resolution. Such data are essential for researchers to have a more complete picture of what is happening under the surface as climate change and other outside forces disrupt the freshwater ecosystems. It will bring environmental monitoring to a whole new level."
The robotic fish will carry sensors recording such things as temperature, dissolved oxygen, pollutants and harmful algae. Tan also is developing electronics so the devices can navigate and communicate in their watery environment.
"This project will greatly advance bio-robotic technology," Tan said. "The project is very practical and we are designing the fish to be inexpensive so they can be used in various applications like sampling lakes, monitoring aquafarms and safeguarding water reservoirs."
The robotic fish might detect toxic algal blooms, for example.
"As air temperature increases, the lakes and reservoirs also heat up," Litchman said. "Increasing water temperature creates strong stratification within the various layers of the water and this may lead to increased growth of harmful algae. Some of these algal blooms create poor conditions for fish and exude toxins that also endanger people."
To mimic how fish swim and maneuver, Tan builds "fins" for robotic fish with electro-active polymers that use electricity to change shape. Similar to real muscle tissue, ion movements twist and bend the polymer when voltage is applied. The effect works in reverse, too – slender "feelers" could signal maneuvering circuits in a sort of electro-active central nervous system. Infrared sensors also could be used for "eyes" to avoid obstacles.
The robots will communicate wirelessly with a docking station after surfacing at programmed intervals and could similarly be linked to other robotic fish for coordinated maneuvers or signal relay. Global positioning system technology and inertial measurement units will allow precise navigation.
It's not big, but it's a keeper: A 9-inch prototype now swimming in Tan's laboratory tank is modeled on the yellow perch by John Thon, a member of the research team who teaches art at nearby Holt Junior High School. The device isn't strong enough to resist stiff currents, so for now must be confined to relatively still waters. Future versions will incorporate the ability to change buoyancy to assist locomotion and maneuver.
Tan's earlier foundational work on the robots was funded by the Office of Naval Research and a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. Litchman's work on algal blooms also is supported by an NSF CAREER grant.
Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.
International network connects experimental research in European waters
21.03.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
World Water Day 2017: It doesn’t Always Have to Be Drinking Water – Using Wastewater as a Resource
17.03.2017 | ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy