By Jack Williams
This revolutionary robotic eel can successfully pinpoint the source of water pollution after swimming through contaminated water.
The Envirobot takes measurements within the water before sending the data back to a computer in real time.
It was designed by researchers from EPFL – Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausuanne, Switzerland – as well as other institutes, and has been tested on a small section of Lake Geneva.
The robot successfully moved on its own, generating maps of water conductivity and temperature.
Auke Ijspeert, Head of EPFL’s Biorobotics Laboratory (BioRob), said: “There are many advantages to using swimming robots.
“They can take measurements and send us data in real-time – much faster than if we had measurement stations set up around the lake.
“And compared with conventional propeller-driven underwater robots, they are less likely to get stuck in algae or branches as they move around.
“What’s more, they produce less of a wake, so they don’t disperse pollutants as much.
“The Envirobot can follow a preprogrammed path, has the potential to make its own decisions, and can independently track down the source of pollution.”
Measuring 1.5 meters, the Envirobot is equipped with biological, physical and chemical sensors.
Through its eel-like movement and shape, the robot also does not disturb aquatic life by stirring up mud.
Recent research saw the team diffuse salt into the water, changing its conductivity, before allowing Envirobot to swim in the contaminated area.
The long-term goal for the project, researchers said, is for the robot to eventually to detect heavy metals such as mercury and other pollutants.
Jan Roelof van der Meer, Project Coordinator and Head of the Department of Fundamental Microbiology at the University of Lausanne, said: “We obviously can’t contaminate a lake like we do the test water in our lab.
“For now, we will continue using salt as the contaminant until the robot can easily find the source of the contamination.
“Then we will add biological sensors to the robot and carry out tests with toxic compounds.”