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Robots, once a figment of our imagination, have started to become ubiquitous in our everyday lives. We are used to talking cell phones and driverless trains. But what about pollution-fighting fish robots?
Dr. Huosheng Hu with an early prototype. photo: MotherboardTV
The Shoal Consortium, a group of scientists from University of Essex, the Tyndall National Institute, the University of Strathclyde together with BMT Group, a technology consultancy, and Thales Safare, a unit of Europe’s largest defense electronics group and the Port Authority of Gijon have developed a robotic fish that can detect and report pollution from the source, in real-time.
Luke Speller from the Shoal Consortium explains how it works in this video from BBC News.
Last week, a school of prototype robo-fish was released in the northern Spanish Port of Gijón in the Bay of Biscay. The school of 5-foot long mechanical fish will patrol the harbor, collecting and mapping real-time data of contaminants in the water. The robots detect heavy metals like copper, lead and phenols while operating to depths of around 95 feet. They can also measure oxygen and salinity levels to help monitor the harbor’s environmental health.
Designed to mimic nature, the robotic fish have built-in acoustic sensors so they can “talk” to each other, sonar to “see” and avoid obstacles and a computer brain that tells them where and how best to hunt down sources of pollution.
SHOAL robotic fish released into the wild. photo Luke Speller
From BBC News: Ian Dukes from the University of Essex – another partner in the consortium – says that nature was an obvious inspiration for their robot.
He explains: “Over millions of years, fish have evolved the ultimate hydrodynamic shape, and we have tried to mimic that in the robot. “They swim just like fish; they are really quite agile and can change direction quickly, even in shallow water.”
The dual-hinged fish-tail is very maneuverable, enabling the robo-fish to make tight turns a propeller-driven robot couldn’t manage. This makes them easily able to navigate the ports and avoid ships and the port infrastructure.
They are also less noisy, which is better for marine life. The robo-fish are battery-powered and run for about 8 hours between charges. For now, they have to be picked up by boat, but in the future, the scientists plan to program the fish to automatically return to a charging station when the battery runs low.
Watch more at MotherboardTV about the development of the robo-fish.
SHOAL robotic fish. photo Luke Speller
Currently, divers monitor water quality about once a month – a costly, time-consuming process. The port of Gijón pays 100,000 euro a year for divers to collect water samples which are then sent away for analysis for several weeks. The SHOAL robo-fish monitor the water quality in real-time allowing the port authorities to respond immediately to pollution and start mitigating the effects.
“The idea is that we want to have real-time monitoring of pollution, so that if someone is dumping chemicals or something is leaking, we can get to it straight away, find out what is causing the problem and put a stop to it,” explains Luke Speller to the BBC.
While the primary purpose for the robo-fish is to monitor water pollution, that’s not all the scientists and engineers have planned. The modular design makes it easily adaptable for other uses. The developers hope to refine the robo-fish technology for oil-spill cleanup, maritime search and rescue, and port security.
by Mai Armstrong for Working Harbor Committee
Before the 20th century, New York Harbor was home to hundreds of thousands of acres of oyster reefs, reportedly half of the world’s oysters. The bivalves were threatened by pollution, and in the early 1900s, typhoid and cholera outbreaks traced to oysters from Staten Island caused many oyster farms to be shut down. Since, oysters presence and role on the harbor has almost been erased from our collective memory.
For the past year and a half, New York Harbor School has been working to reestablish oysters in NY harbor by launching an ambitious project to rebuild our lost oyster reefs – growing colonies of filter-feeder bivalves that will eventually reduce aquatic waste and clear the water of some pollutants.
From International Business Times: As an oyster filter-feeds by drawing water through its gills, it traps a lot of particles – both plankton and pollution. The bits it can’t eat are mixed with bunch of mucus, ejected, and settle down to the floor as sediment instead of remaining suspended in the water. A single adult oyster can process nearly 50 gallons of water a day.
Murray Fisher, founder of the New York Harbor School said, “We need an army of talented, skilled, interested students to help restore a degraded ecosystem.”
Instructor Pete Malinowski helps students from New York Harbor School place live oysters on Soundview Reef.
credit: Ildiko Reisenbigler for USACE
From Mission Blue: The New York Harbor School, a public school located on Governor’s Island with a focus on water job skills and environmental stewardship, recently joined the Oyster Restoration Research Partnership. Together with about 20 partners, the high school is working to rebuild the Hudson River’s historical oyster reefs.
Watch this video to learn more about the New York Harbor School, and their oyster reef revitalization project.
The New York Harbor School project which began with only a few hundred oysters, has grown to five reefs around New York, Governor’s Island, Staten Island, Soundview, Bay Ridge Flats, and Hastings.
by Mai Armstrong for Working Harbor Committee