Michigan State University scientists have unveiled a new robotic fish that has the capability of gliding long distances autonomously, while using little energy as it collects readings about the cleanliness of estuaries, lakes, and other bodies of water.
Xiaobo Tan, MSU associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, created the new high-tech fish, and even equipped it with an array of sensors to determine water quality, temperature, and other important data about the water it traverses through.
Unlike previous robotic fishes, Tan's new gizmo integrates both gliding and swimming capabilities. The problem with robotic fishes that were strictly 'swimmers' was that they used up too much battery power too quickly. Meanwhile, the dilemma with strictly 'glider' robotic fishes was that they had lower maneuverability and lower velocity potentials. Tan resolved these two issues by combining building both capabilities into his robotic fish so that it could better "adapt to different environments, from shallow streams to deep lakes, from calm ponds to rivers, with rapid currents."
Tan's robotic fish has the moniker Grace-----because she's a "Gliding Robot ACE," thanks to her being installed with a pump that allows water to enter and exit the fish, depending on its ascending or descending movements for buoyancy.
The Kalamazoo River was chosen as the site for Grace's first test-drive because an oil spill had occurred there in 2010. When Grace was tested in the Kalamazoo River in late 2012, "She swam at three sites along the river and wirelessly sent back sensor readings.....we may have set a world record--demonstrating robotic fish-based sampling with commercial water-quality sensors in a real-world environment," according to Tan.
The National Science Foundation supports Tan's research, because underwater gliders-----also called seagliders-----have become a mainstay in oceanography on account of the wealth of data they can provide through their sensors. One famous seaglider in late 2009 even traversed the Atlantic Ocean. Moreover, they are valued for cross-applications in law enforcement against contraband, and for utilization in homeland security, intelligence, espionage, and military arenas as well.
Tan's new robotic fish, Grace, is notable for being 10 times lighter and more compact than the standard commercial underwater gliders currently in the field.