Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"ROBOTICS: fish automatons to run in schools"

In nature, fish swim in schools without the assistance of wireless radio communication, and now researchers are claiming that they can mimic the algorithm they use. By programming simple autonomous robots to swim together, researchers hope to harness natures algorithms to perform functions with cheap plentiful robots rather than concentrating resources in expensive individual models. Look for schools of swimming robot, flocks of flying robots and swarms of insect robots within the next five years. R.C.J.

Robotic fish could swim in schools of hundreds to perform surveys, environmental monitoring, reconnaissance and other underwater tasks, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who recently displayed prototypes. Measuring just a few inches long, the robotic fish combine flexible polymers with microprocessor controllers to swim, observe and return to report their findings. The polymer compounds used to make the fish were of variable stiffness in different sections to perform the functions of discrete components. MIT's original design back in 1994 had over 2,000 components, including six motors. Other research teams at the University of Essex have continued to design robo-fish using traditional materials, but the MIT researchers took a cue from the design of modern prosthetic limbs to make their robo-fish cheaper and more reliable by virtue of reducing the number of moving parts to just 10, including a single motor.