Robotic animals helping real animals? Yes, the future is now. Meet the EPFL robotic eel known as Envirobot, a modular robot created by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology to fight pollution in water sources.
This robotic eel can swim through contaminated water to find sources of pollution. Each module carries a different type of sensor that reacts to different inputs. Some of these sensors can test for water conductivity and temperature and others actually rely on living organisms. Yes, a robot „powered” by living organisms, deployed to help other living organisms.
For example, one module is filled with bacteria developed by the scientists to generate light when exposed to mercury. Another module contains fish cells grown on electrodes that do not touch each other when toxins are present.
The EPFL robotic eel even contains a module filled with Daphnia, tiny crustaceans’ whose movements can indicate water toxicity. The general principle behind the EPFL robotic eel is that it’s customizable, allowing scientists to deploy different modules according to each location. Its shape is designed for maximum efficiency, unlike classic robots with propellers, that disturb aquatic life and kick up mud in their path.
According to EPFL, the robotic eel can be programmed to follow a certain path or put on autopilot, to “hunt” more toxic waters on its own.
Thus far, EPFL has only tested the physical and chemical sensors, but they’re hopeful the biological modules will perform great in outdoor conditions. That phase will begin later this summer.
Apparently, eel / snake shapes are the next trend in robotics. In case you missed it, NASA wants to explore Titan, Saturn’s Moon, and one of the proposed designs for the robotic rover was an eel-like (or squid-like) contraption.
The robotic eel you saw in the above video is part of the Envirobot project, a joint initiative of EPFL, the University of Lausanne, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland and the Swiss Fedetal Institute oof Aquating Science and Technology.