Robot Eel Detects And Tracks Water Pollution

When we think of robots and the duties they perform (or will one day perform), the images that come to mind are not usually associated with water, but a Swiss robotics company has developed a modular robot that not only resembles an eel, it moves through the water like one and is designed to work in an aquatic setting as well. Called “Envirobot,” the mechanical eel has the ability to detect toxic elements in water and other forms of water pollution. Better yet, it can be deployed to track a pollutant to its source.

Voice of America reported last week that Swiss company EPFL Biorob has developed a somewhat snake-like compartmentalized aquatic robot, dubbed “Envirobot,” that mimics the swimming movements of an eel, with each of its modular components able to test for and detect various toxic elements within a body of water. Envirobot is also equipped with the capability of transmitting data findings to a remote computer in real time, negating the need to retrieve the device and analyze each module’s results prior to acting on said data.

A Reuters report noted that the aquatic robot’s modules are powered by their own respective (small) electric motors, each easily replaceable on site if they should stop operating. The “eel,” as EPFL Biorob researcher Alessandro Crespi explained, has a body made up of several different modules with “every element has a single degree of freedom that can oscillate, and all these degrees of freedom can create this kind of swimming motion that is typical of eels and lampreys.”

robot resembling eel
Scientists are now using robots that resemble snakes and eels to perform various tasks. [Image by DarkGeometryStudios/Shutterstock]

As explained by Engadget, the robot’s modules (which look every bit like those plastic children’s blocks that can be attached to form a chain) have built-in physical, biological, and chemical sensors that can test for water conductivity and temperature. Other modules rely on living organisms to detect for water toxins. For example, one particular module contains bacteria that the EPFL Biorob team developed to emit light when exposed to mercury. Other modules use fish cells on electrodes that repel each other when toxins are found in the water. And one module houses minute crustaceans called Daphnia, creatures whose movements can be used to indicate water toxicity.

Envirobot is just the latest robot developed to aid humans in bodies of water. In 2016, an article from The Verge revealed that a Norwegian robotics company called Eelume had produced a serpentine robot (which actually resembled more a glowing-eyed black snake than an eel) to be used underwater to help in the maintenance of undersea equipment.

[Featured Image by higyou/Shutterstock]