Scientists Watch Robotic Fish, Plants Acting 'Naturally'
Scientists are using robotic devices to study the health of waters in and around Venice, Italy.
The robots are designed to act like fish, other underwater creatures and plants.
The scientists are working with several universities and research centers as part of a group called subCULTron.
The European Union gives money to the project as part of its Horizon 2020 program. The aim of Horizon 2020 is to "take great ideas from the lab to the market" and support world-class science and innovation in Europe.
Francesco Barbariol is with the Institute for Marine Sciences in Venice. He says the goal is to use the artificial intelligence of the robots to help humans understand what is happening under the water of the Venice lagoon.
"SubCULTron is a collective artificial intelligence project whose aim is to create the biggest shoal of robot fish in the world. The aim of the project is to improve knowledge of the seabed, and, from a technological point of view, to try to transfer human abilities to hi-tech items."
The robot swarm
As part of the project, the scientists created three kinds of robots: the aMussel, the aFish and the aPad.
An aMussel sits on the bottom of the sea and gathers information about the plants, bacteria, and animals around it. It also collects information from the other robots and helps them communicate with each other.
An aPad floats on top of the water like a lily pad. It communicates with people about the ships on the water and gets information from satellites orbiting the Earth.
aFish made by subCULTron Project aFish made by subCULTron Project
The aFish moves around between the aPads and aMussels. It explores the water and shares information with the aMussels and aPads.
Together, the robots form a swarm, like a group of bees going about their jobs, or birds moving together as one in the sky.
Autonomous #robots monitoring water quality in the canals of #Venice. Meet EU-supported @subCULTron project
— DigitalSingleMarket (@DSMeu) September 11, 2017
As the robots work together, they appear to be learning to organize themselves in the same way living things do.
Alexandre Campo is a computer scientist at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He says the scientists looked at the way animals learn to work in groups to understand how robots can learn to work together. The subCULTron project wants its robots to learn to work together so they can watch for changes and new problems in the water.
Overcoming problems underwater
One problem the researchers had in the beginning was how the robots would communicate with each other. Wi-Fi and GPS equipment do not work underwater. Instead, the robots can use sonar and an electric field.
EU supported #robots to monitor water quality: read about @subCULTron's smart mussels from