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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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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