In Which I Decide to Build Professor Ballard a Lovebot

Galleons, I figured out why my fish hates me: he’s lonely. I am terrible company, and I feel like he might desire a little fishy tête-à-tête. Some quality time with another betta. You know, a little conversation, some playful flirting, and then BAM! Wild aquatic relations against the glass wall of the tank.

The Professor’s probably got mad game.

And while fish are all about the “lay some eggs and fertilize them” bit and less about naughty underwater shenanigans, bettas actually have a bizarrely intimate portion of their mating ritual. In order for the female to release her eggs, the male betta has to embrace her and squeeze them out.

Which can end horribly if the male is a bit too enthusiastic.

Now, much as I’d like the Professor to get some, I really have no need for little Professor spawnlets with some frilly tart. So, I think it’s time to get him a robot companion.

After all, Henrik Christensen of the European Robotics Research Network said that, “in five years time people would be having sex with functional robots.” I feel it’s only fair we give fish the same option.

***

All joking aside, scientists really are making robotic fishes. Of course, these robofish aren’t tiny sex aids. No, the robofish have been created to increase understanding of collective fish behavior.

Essentially, we’re creating tiny, fishie overlords.

Over at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, engineers and researchers worked to create biomimetic fish in the hope to create a robot believable enough to be accepted among schools of fish, a robot that could be used to steer schools away from environmental disasters, preserving their populations.

Their robot design was very simple:

It doesn’t seem like this little guy could fool a fish, but it’s less about looks among fish-kind and more about… tail movement.

An interesting thing about schools of fish is that their tail beat frequencies (yeah, we’ve measured that) vary depending on their position within the school. The leader fish has a greater tail beat frequency, and fish further back in the school have slower and slower tail beat frequencies. Essentially, the rest of the school is drafting the leader.

Knowing this, the NYU-Poly engineers worked to create a fishbot that accurately mimicked tail propulsion of a swimming fish. Having done this, they dropped their little robofish into a group of golden shiners. When the robot was just floating about, the fish didn’t pay it any heed. However, when they made the little robot’s tail mimic the tail beat frequency of a leader fish, the school moved behind the leaderbot, slowing their own tail beat frequencies and behaving just like they do in the wild.

Using little biomimetic fish as school leaders could allow us to lead schools of fish away from hazardous things like oil spills or dams. And fish could just be the beginning- researchers are now excited to try creating other types of robocreatures, something that would help conservationist efforts and help us learn more about animal group behavior.

They’re probably not thinking about making sexbots, though. Sorry, Professor.

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