Inspired by the speedy tuna capable of swimming tirelessly in the oceans, the US Department of Homeland Security will introduce a fish-like robot for underwater patrols.
The ‘BIOSwimmer’ robot sports features like the real-life fish with replicated fins and a flexible tail to pull off quick maneuvers.
US Homeland Security funded the robot made by Boston Engineering, Waltham, MA with an eye toward missions such as exploring the flooded areas of ships, inspecting oil tankers or patrolling US harbors to watch out for suspicious activity.
“It’s called ‘biomimetics’. We’re using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system that works exceedingly well,” said David Taylor, program manager for the BIOSwimmer at the US Department of Homeland Security.
The robot, which is based on the tuna’s sleek, flexible shape, would be able to squeeze into tight spaces such as the flooded bilges and tanks of ship interiors and fit in well with surrounding marine life.
Would-be terrorists hoping to sneak weapons and other contraband through U.S. ports on and in the hulls of ships may be thwarted by this robotic tuna fish.
The BIOSwimmer robofish is able to overcome so-called position-keeping problems experienced by traditional underwater robots that are powered by vertical and horizontal thrusters, according to Taylor.
The robot can sit in the water and go through a swimming motion like a fish and give you a better position-keeping capability. Such steadiness could be important, for example, while the robot uses an array of sensors to inspect grated cavities in ship hulls called sea chests where contraband could be stashed.
Control is via a tether attached to a laptop computer. The tether is long enough to inspect ship hulls more than 500 feet in length, Taylor noted.
The robot can also operate autonomously, he added, but when it is not hooked to the tether “sending data up through the water column is somewhat challenging.” To get around that, the robot would have to be periodically brought back to the surface for data downloading, which limits real-time inspection capabilities.
The Department of Homeland Security is in discussions with an undisclosed custom’s port to begin testing a prototype of the robot within a year.
Compare and contrast with our previous article on the EU’s very similar offering:
Safe Harbor as Robot Fish Patrols for Polluters and Security Threats