Robotic Fish Shows the Meaning of Gliding

First Posted: Jan 17, 2013 02:42 PM EST

An environmentally friendly, robotic fish has just received an upgrade. Xiaobo Tan from Michigan State University and her colleagues have given their creation the ability to glide long distances, a necessary addition if the fish is to be used for what it was intended- collecting data that can aid in the cleaning of lakes and rivers.

The robot, named Grace (short for Gliding Robot ACE), is equipped with an array of sensors that not only allow it to travel autonomously, but also allow it to measure water temperature and quality. Although underwater gliders are becoming more common, Grace is about 10 times smaller than the commercial glider. Its newest upgrade is a pump that pushes water in and out of the fish, allowing it to save power while moving through the water. Its previous method of locomotion required the constant flapping of its "tail," which quickly drained the robot's battery.

The robot's designers have previously taken their creation out into the field. Grace swam at three sites along the Kalamazoo River, exceeding the scientist's expectations as it wirelessly sent back readings on water quality. The researchers didn't just accidentally choose the Kalamazoo River, though. The waterway was the site of a 2010 oil spill. Grace picked up several crude oil readings, including in locations upriver from where the actual spill occurred.

The only downside of Grace's new gliding capability is that it makes the robot less maneuverable when used. However, the robot has also maintained its swimming ability and can choose whether to glide or swim depending on the situation.

Now, the robot can just keep swimming.

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