Peer pressure is bad enough with your living, breathing counterparts but throw in a robot and its game over. A recent experiment found that a robot fish was able to lead real fish into following it upstream. While this can appear to be pretty creepy, it can ultimately help lead scientists to a better understanding of fish behavior and lead to some human-led diversion tactics from possible environment disasters.
We’ve written plenty on robotic fish in the past and while there is plenty of discussion on why and how fish school in science, this research can help to bridge the gap and possibly move towards some consensus.
“Although some previous works have successfully investigated the interactions between live animals and robots or animal-like replicas, none of these studies have considered robots that are designed to simulate animal locomotion,” wrote the authors of a new study about the robot.
Stefano Marras and Maurizio Porfiri of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University published their work online Feb. 22 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
As the research team points out, schools of fish offers both advantages and disadvantages to fish. As a group, they can collaborate to improve access to potential mates, move easier through water and even confuse predators. The flip side is, there is increased competition for both food and mates and provides an easier way for parasites and disease to spread.
How this “trick” worked out was by looking to understand the dynamics of fish schooling, Marras and Porfiri built a robotic model based on the Notemigonus crysoleucas, a species of Golden shiner. Covered in plastic and twice the size of a real fish, the robot mimicked the back-and-forth tail motion of the shiner. So how did the test pan out?
The team put the robot and a single shiner in a water tunnel (to simulate a current in a stream) the fish would swim in a position, similar to what you see in a school, near the robot fish for several minutes. When added to the stream with the robot fish when it wasn’t moving, they swam more randomly.
The team did note that because of the size difference, some fish kept a wary distance from the robot but did take advantage of less drag by swimming in the root’s wake.
Why did they follow along? The team feels the similar shape and tail motion affect the fish’s behavior but they can’t be 100% certain.
The laboratory experiment may show a future for the ability to use remote-controlled “robofish” to help steer other fish from human-caused ecological disasters.
“If accepted by the animals, robotic fish may act as leaders and drive them away from human-induced ecological disasters that are affecting life in aquatic environments, such as oil spills, and man-made structures, such as dams,” the authors wrote.