While harbors and ports around the world are crucial to global trade, industrial activities are often responsible for high levels of pollution and water contamination. Fuel leaks, emissions, and general waste all contribute to the problem, but now scientists from the European BMT Group have developed a new weapon in the war against maritime defilement: a pollution-sniffing robotic fish!

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Designed to swim where no right-minded diver dares to, Robo-Fish hunts down sources of contamination in the water and sends the relevant information back to shore. The device is currently undergoing trials in the port of Gijon in northern Spain. If these trials are successful, the Robo-Fish could become a regular mainstay in region’s waters.

Robo-fish was created by BMT Group who specialize in technology consultancy. Working with the Shoal Consortium, the EU-group are dedicated to developing these underwater robots. Speaking to the BBC, senior scientist Luke Speller said of their robot, “The idea is that we want to have real-time monitoring of pollution, so that if someone is dumping chemicals or something is leaking, we can get to it straight away, find out what is causing the problem and put a stop to it.”

“At the moment, in harbors, they take samples about once a month,” says Mr Speller. “And in that time, a ship could come into the harbor, leak some chemicals somewhere, then it’s gone, all the way up the coastline. The idea is that we will use robot fish, which are in the harbor all of the time, and constantly checking for pollution.”

Robo-Fish is 1.5m long and so as not to frighten the natural residents of the seas, it mimics the movements of real fish very closely. The ‘fish shape‘ is also nature’s most hydro-dynamic and allows the robot to turn quickly and easily. In comparison, propellers and thrusters simply weren’t suitable, especially in very weedy areas where they could easily get snagged.

The aquatic automaton is equipped with an array of micro-electrodes that allow it to “sense” contaminants. Currently, it is capable of detecting phenols and heavy metals such as copper and lead, and can also monitor oxygen levels and salinity.

Speller adds: “We have designed it so you can pull out the chemical sensor unit, and put in different ones for something else, such as sulphates or phosphates, depending on the environment that you are monitoring.”

With water pollution an expensive business (in the UK,  the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimated water pollution costs £1.3bn per annum), it is hoped that Robo-Fish may soon find service all around the world (similar products have been developed in the US by MIT). Currently,  a single fish costs £20,000 to make but if the trials are successful, this price will come down as more are produced. Plus, the impact the fish would have against aquatic pollution would make the price a drop in the ocean.

+ BMT Group

via BBC News / PC World