Autonomously Schooling Robofish Will Become Cylons of the SeaS

One day in the near future, when humanity has killed off all the fish in the sea, we'll be able to replace every single on of them using the research of University of Washington UW assistant professor Kristi Morgansen. That's because Morgansen, with her 10,000-gallon UW test tank, has almost perfected an autonomous robofish, which needs only other robofish and a basic set of commands to operate wirelessly underwater. They'll be Cylons of the Sea. Like tuna, with nukes.

Morgansen designed the robofish to explore the deepest depths of the ocean, as well as seek out other locations where the environment is deadly to human beings. They'll do this all without any intervention from people, other robots or even satellites. The group would perform just like an organic fish and form a school, with dominant personalities leading the way even if certain robofish received incomplete or garbled instructions.

Autonomously Schooling Robofish Will Become Cylons of the SeaS

"In schooling and herding animals, you can get much more efficient maneuvers and smoother behaviors than what we can do in engineering right now," Morgansen said. "The idea of these experiments [with schools of live fish] is to ask, 'How are they doing it?' and see if we can come up with some ideas."

Schooling also helps fight the effects of water on wireless communication. Optimal underwater data transfer rates are approximately 80 bytes, or about 32 numbers, per second, but the robofishes' simple two-command memory structure (swimming in the same direction or swimming in different directions) mean tasks get done anyway. The robots use fins and a tail, instead of a propeller, because they're more maneuverable and create lower drag. [University of Washington]