January 18, 2013

Image of the Week: Robotic Fish Glides Along Gathering Water Quality Data

by Christine Hoekenga

robotic fish in a test pool

A robotic fish called GRACE has been developed by researchers at Michigan State University. GRACE can use her tail fin to swim or just glide underwater collecting samples. Image Courtesy: G.L. Kohuth, Michigan State University.

You might say that this robotic fish, developed by researchers at Michigan State University, has grace under water.  Her designers, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering Xiaobo Tan and his team, call her GRACE (which stands for Gliding Robot ACE).  Originally, the robot flapped her tail fin to propel herself through the water while her sensors collected data and beamed it back to researchers wirelessly.  That drained her battery quickly and limited her range for collecting data. But the team recently updated her skill set with the ability to glide through the water–a movement that requires almost no energy and can be sustained indefinitely.

Late last year, GRACE went for a test swim in Kalamazoo River and measured water quality upstream and downstream from the site of a 2010 oil spill.  Her sensors detected crude oil upriver from where the spill occurred as well as downriver.  The researchers hope that information like this, gathered by GRACE and other autonomous swimming robots, can help guide clean-up efforts in the future.

Christine Hoekenga

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Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.