Scientists Messing With Lemmings Of The Sea

You gotta love this catchy headline from a Wired article today:

Real Fish Welcome Robotic Overlord Into Their School

…and the story itself is VERY interesting:

A robotic fish has sailed across an aquatic uncanny valley by tricking real fish into following it upstream…

To help investigate the dynamics of fish schooling, Marras and Porfiri designed a robot inspired by Notemigonus crysoleucas, a species of Golden shiner. The plastic-covered robofish was twice the size of the real fish but mimicked its back-and-forth tail motion.

When the researchers plopped single Golden shiners into a water tunnel meant to simulate a stream-like current, each fish swam in school-like positions near their robotic counterparts for several minutes. Around a robot that didn’t move, however, the Golden shiners swam randomly for shorter periods of time.

Although some fish kept a wary distance ahead of the robot — they may have perceived it as a threat — most kept pace by trailing in the machine’s watery wake. The behavior matched that of fish in the wild, which group into schools to reduce drag and make swimming more efficient.

Now, sometimes I read science journalism and I’m blown away by the vast amount of time that scientists spend on what seems, to me, to be the most boring and trivial matters. (It’s a good thing, then, that I’m no scientist.)

When it comes to animal behavior research, in particular, my heart often goes out to the critters being studied, how the scientists try to mess with their heads in order to learn more about how they tick.

In the case of the Golden shiners, however, it might just turn out to be for their own good:

“If accepted by the animals, robotic fish may act as leaders and drive them away from human-induced ecological disasters that are affecting life in aquatic environments, such as oil spills, and man-made structures, such as dams,” the authors wrote.

VERY cool!

7 thoughts on “Scientists Messing With Lemmings Of The Sea

  1. I think the best application would be leading fish through dams. For a scenario like an oil spill, you would need many for a variety of species. I don’t see that logistically working, but it would be great if it did.

    I wonder about its use in commercial fishing. Good or bad?

    1. I kinda came to the same conclusion about oil spills as I thought about this more, and I never even thought about the commercial fishing angle. I fear the applications in that area might be more likely on the bad side than good, unfortunately, greed being what it is.

  2. I read the same article and thought the same thing!

    A stand-up comedian once said NASA was just a “smart farm” for “really intelligent people” who have too much time on their hands. That might be what is happening here, with the micromanaging of our natural environments by people with highly leveraged cerebral cortexes.

    Then again, if this will help fish in some way, I’m all for it. Great post!

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