Real Fish Get Schooled By Robots

Real fish are willing to accept robots as their masters, potentially setting model for animals and humans

2 min read
Real Fish Get Schooled By Robots

Fish, I guess, are not the smartest fish in the... Well, they're not that smart, let's go with that. Stefano Marras of the Institute for the Marine and Coastal Environment-National Research Council, in Torregrande, Italy, and Maurizio Porfiri of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University have convinced some golden shiners to follow a robotic fish in a schooling pattern.

Watching this video, you get the sense that maybe, just maybe, the real fish is feeling a little bit skeptical about this whole situation. It's definitely in a schooling position a couple points abaft the robot's starboard beam, taking advantage of the wake to reduce drag and swim more efficiently. But, the real fish seems to be making a point of not getting too close, perhaps having a sinking feeling that there's something slightly fishy going on.

It's certainly true that the scale (and the scales) of the robot are a bit off, but apparently the fish are more interested in behavior and body layout. We've seen this sort of thing before, but in the previous research, it was somewhat less clear whether the fish were schooling with the robot, or just using it for cover. In this case, the real fish are clearly interacting with the robot as part of a schooling behavior, which means that it should be possible to have the robot hijack schools of fish completely. Here's what the authors of the study plan to do with this capability:

“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.”

Not me, though. I can think of better things to do with a robot fish. I'd take it scuba diving with me, and have it convince the prettiest fish to swim over and pose for photos. Then I'd send it out after the tastiest fish, and get them to follow me back to the boat for, uh, more photos. And this, my friends, is what robotics is all about: improving people's lives.

[ Paper ] via [ Wired ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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