Robot fish detects pollution

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A robotic fish, which has been developed by a British team of scientists to detect pollution has had its first test in the waters of northern Spain.

It's hoped that the device, which is shaped and swims like a real fish, will be of use to water companies, port authorities, public aquariums and anyone who needs to monitor water quality.

The fish are 1.5m in length and made from carbon fibre and metal. They currently cost £20,000 each, although it's thought that if the fish move into commercial production, the price will come down.

The robotic fish are designed so they don't disturb other marine creatures or the environment.

They swim independently, can avoid obstacles, communicate with one another, work out where they are and also know when to return 'home' once their eight-hour battery life starts to run low.

They have the hydrodynamic shape of real fish, which means they are able to quickly change direction, and giving them artificial fins rather than propellers means they are also able to travel through weedy waters.

The new technology detects pollutants leaking from ships or undersea pipelines into the water in just seconds, transmitting the readings back to a shore station up to 1km away.

"Chemical sensors fitted to the fish permit real-time, in-situ analysis, rather than the current method of sample collection and dispatch to a shore based laboratory," said Luke Speller, a scientist at British consultancy BMT Group who led the project.

"Furthermore, the Artificial Intelligence which has been introduced means that the fish can identify the source of pollution enabling prompt and more effective remedial action."

A team of scientists has been working on the SHOAL project. Mr Speller says the collaboration has helped bring about the development of robots from the laboratory to the rough seas, which has been one of its biggest achievements.

SHOAL is made up of six European organisations: BMT Group, the University of Essex, the Tyndall National Institute, the University of Strathclyde, Thales Safare and the Port Authority of Gijon in Spain, where the robotic fish have been tested.

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