A team of researchers from École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has successfully infiltrated schools of zebrafish using a robotic fish of their own creation.
Hoping to gain insight into how fish move and communicate, the researchers observed schools of zebrafish and applied their findings to help create a realistic robotic version of a zebrafish. The robot was built to resemble the zebrafish in color, shape and size and was designed to mimic the movement and speed of the fish.
"Fish are much more complicated animals," says Frank Bonnet, an author of the study. "To integrate into an insect community, a robot simply has to emit certain kinds of pheromones. But integrating into a community of vertebrates seems to involve many more criteria, in terms of such things as appearance, movement and vibration."
Mounted on a small pole that connected to a sliding, motorized base along the bottom of the aquarium, the robotic fish was dragged through the water moving its tail to simulate the realistic movement of the zebrafish.
Testing the robotic fish among ten different schools of zebrafish and comparing those groups to schools without the robotic fish, researchers determined that both groups functioned in much the same way.
"The fish accepted the robot into their schools without any problem," says Bonnet. "And the robot was also able to mimic the fish's behavior, prompting them to change direction or swim from one room to another."
Scientists hope that study will help them achieve the dual purpose of understanding the social interactions of fish and how to make bio-inspired robots more lifelike.
The research was published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.