The autonomous bot can collect samples and film underwater, providing a detailed picture of the environment without disturbing it.
Researchers in Switzerland have developed a new, autonomous fish robot that is capable of giving conservationists a clear picture of creatures living under the sea without disturbing the marine environment.
The robot – named Belle by its developers – has been specifically designed to collect valuable data in a minimally invasive manner.
“We want to capture ecosystems as they really behave,” Leon Guggenheim, a mechanical engineering student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich, told Reuters.
According to Guggenheim, Belle is silent, moves like a fish and does not cause any disturbance as she moves through her environment.
“Those areas are particularly vulnerable to propeller-based systems that would slice through corals or scare away fish,” said Robert Katzchmann, assistant professor of robotics at ETH Zurich.
The robot uses artificial intelligence (AI) to navigate itself underwater and is capable of collecting DNA samples and high resolution video while blending into the coral reef environment.
Measuring just under a meter and weighing about 10 kilograms above water, the Belle is propelled by a silicon fin with two cavities into which water is pumped in cycles.
“These cavities are filled and emptied with water through a pump system, and this moves the fin back and forth, because you have a cavity on one side that builds up extreme pressure and on the other There is a cavity on the side which creates a vacuum. The wing then tilts in one direction,” Guggenheim said.
Effects of overfishing and pollution
The goal is to have the robot operate autonomously for two hours before its environmental DNA, or eDNA, filter becomes empty and its batteries need to be replaced.
“It floats to the surface, sends us a GPS signal and then we go and pick it up again,” Guggenheim said.
“And from there it can send data to us, but the idea is that the mission is so long, that the battery will have to be replaced anyway and the environmental DNA filter will have to be replaced anyway, so there’s no point in sending the data back.” Not if you have to manually get the data for the environmental DNA filter anyway”.
The team hopes that their robot will help marine biologists study the health and biodiversity of various reef ecosystems that have been affected by overfishing, pollution and climate change.