Team to create robotic fish

A university research team will make a robot fish to study how the aquatic animals swim.

Five research institutions, including the University of Bath, have been given €1.8m by the European Commission to build the swimming robot to understand how fish swim upstream.

The consortium is led by the Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia, with partners Riga Technical University in Latvia, Italian Institute of Technology and the Universities of Verona and Bath.

The robotic fish will react to changes in current or flow, as a real fish might encounter in a fast-flowing stream or near the seashore.

It will also be used to film marine life near the shore, where conventional propeller-driven submersible robots have difficulty manoeuvring due to shallow water, kelp and currents created by waves.

The researchers will try to mimic the sense organ found in fish, called the lateral line, which allows the fish to detect the flow of water around it and react to it.

The fish's complex nervous system will be emulated by computer software which will allow the robot to adjust its swimming behaviour to compensate for the flow of water.

When the robot hits the water in a few years' time, it can also be used in biological research, de-mining activities, pollution control and monitoring the world's ecosystems.

The team at the Ocean Technologies Lab at Bath in the University's Department of Mechanical Engineering will be leading the fish biology for the project, looking at how fish respond to changes in flow.

Dr William Megill, lecturer in Biomimetics at the University of Bath, said: "Currently, most aquatic robots can't manoeuvre very well in the shallow water near the shore because they just get smashed against the rocks by the force of the waves.

"However, even in a tsunami, fish manage to sense and swim against the current so that they stay in the water, rather than ending up on the beach.

"So this project is interesting on two levels - firstly we want to understand more about how the fish manages to react to changes in current, and secondly we want to create a robot that mimics this artificially."