Friday, June 1, 2012

Robotic fish shoal sniffs out pollution in harbours

... In the waters of the port of Gijon, Spain ... an autonomous robotic fish designed to sense marine pollution, [is] taking to the open waves for the first time.

"With these fish we can find exactly what is causing the pollution and put a stop to it right away," explains Luke Speller, a scientist at the British technology firm BMT and the leader of SHOAL, a European project involving universities, businesses and the port of Gijon, which have joined forces to create the fish.

Currently the port relies on divers to monitor water quality, which is a lengthy process costing €100,000 per year. The divers take water samples from hundreds of points in the port, then send them off for analysis, with the results taking weeks to return. By contrast, the SHOAL robots would continuously monitor the water, letting the port respond immediately to the causes of pollution, such as a leaking boat or industrial spillage, and work to mitigate its effects.
The SHOAL fish are one and a half metres long, comparable to the size and shape of a tuna, but their neon-yellow plastic shell means they are unlikely to be mistaken for the real thing. A range of onboard chemical sensors detect lead, copper and other pollutants, along with measuring water salinity....

They are also less noisy, reducing the impact on marine life. The robots are battery powered and capable of running for 8 hours between charges....

Working in a group, the fish can cover a 1 kilometre-square region of water, down to a depth of 30 metres. They communicate with each other and a nearby base-station using very low-frequency sound waves, which can penetrate the water more easily than radio waves....

Versions of the fish have been working successfully in the lab for a few years now, but trialling them in a real-life port has proved more difficult. Rough weather has often prevented the researchers from venturing out....

Having demonstrated that the fish can sense pollution and communicate underwater, the SHOAL group now plans to commercialise the design and sell it to other ports in Europe and the rest of the world. The prototypes currently cost around £20,000 each (about $31,600), but mass production should bring that price down.

... The fish's modular design makes it easy to swap the chemical sensors for other applications.... such as search and rescue, helping divers, and port security....
by Jacob Aron
The New Scientist
May 22, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment