When it comes to swimming through the water with efficiency and ease, gliding is the best way to get around. A team of engineers led by Xiaobo Tan from Michigan State University have refined their “Gliding Robot ACE” or Grace, a mechanical fish that conserves energy and maneuvers by both gliding and swimming. The device is also outfitted with an array of sensors that allows it to operate on its own as well as measure water temperature, quality, and determine the presence of toxins.
Grace is able to effortlessly glide through streams and rivers thanks to a pump that pushes water in and out of the body, depending on whether the controllers want the fish to ascend or descend. Its battery pack sits on a rail that moves backwards and forwards in synch with the pump, letting the robot glide through the water along a determined route. Last year, Tan and his colleagues took Grace on a test run in the Kalamazoo River, the site of a 2009 oil spill. According to MSU, she exceeded all expectations in her trial run, swimming at three sites along the river and sending back sensor readings.
“I’m not sure, but we may have set a world record – demonstrating robotic fish-based sampling with commercial water-quality sensors in a real-world environment.” said Tan.
Ten times smaller than any underwater commercial glider known, Grace is part of a growing trend to use underwater robots to monitor environmental quality and explore areas where humans cannot travel. Using battery power more efficiently than traditional swimming robots, gliders such as the University of Virginia’s Mantabot are becoming more popular for underwater research.