Robot Interactions…with Fish


Much research has been done on how humans interact with robots. We’ve seen humans attack robots, grow fond of them and dress them up, and worry about upsetting them.

We’ve also seen robot dogs interact with live dogs, and they seem to react to them much as they would to a live dog, at least initially. Extensive research has determined that dogs interact more with a robot dog than they do with a toy fire truck, at least.

But researchers in Norway are getting some surprises from fish when they introduce robots into their environment.

The robots they used are the same ones used in the oil technology in Norway — nothing like a fish, in other words. Yet the fish in the aquaculture settings responded in predictable ways. That is, once the researchers identified the specific patterns of behavior the fish exhibited. For example, the distance the fish kept from the robot introduced into their space was completely predictable on the basis of the size of the fish.

The color of the robot also made a difference — fish wanted more space from a yellow robot than from a white one. The researchers haven’t yet tried out any other colors, but that’s a start. Fish also care about the size of the robot, but don’t seem to be concerned about the shape. They swim just as close to cube-shaped robots as to cylindrical ones.

“When we talk about interactions between humans and robots, we take it for granted that we assign the highest priority to the needs and safety of the humans,” one researcher on the project explained. “The same principle lies at the heart of our project, Fish-Machine Interaction. We want to contribute towards the development of better robots that can operate fast and efficiently. But they must, of course, take the needs and safety of the fish into account.”

Biomimetic fish

Earlier work on fish-machine interactions has involved biomimetic fish, that is, robotic fish that look like fish.

One of the most exciting applications of robot fish is studying social behavior in fish. When a robot fish joins a school, how do the real fish react? Studies have shown that fish exhibit varying levels of interest towards robot fish. Some species, like guppies, may be initially curious but show less responsiveness over time. Others, like zebrafish, may be more drawn to interact with the robot, especially if it mimics the movements of a healthy fish.

This can reveal fascinating insights into fish social hierarchies. For example, a robot fish with a bolder swimming pattern may be perceived as a leader by some fish, influencing their movements. Conversely, a sluggish robot might be ostracized by the school. By observing these interactions, scientists can gain valuable knowledge about how fish establish dominance, communicate danger, and maintain social order within their groups.

Future fish research

The oil industry robots don’t move like fish, so their interactions with the live fish will naturally be different. The two types of research provide different kinds of information on the question.

The applications of robot-fish interactions extend beyond pure observation. These robotic marvels can be used for biomimicry – the study of nature to inspire human creations. By analyzing the movement patterns of robotic fish that successfully integrate with real fish schools, engineers can design more efficient underwater vehicles or autonomous robots that navigate complex environments with minimal disruption.

While the potential of robot-fish interactions is exciting, there are challenges to consider. Creating truly realistic robots that can seamlessly integrate with various fish species requires ongoing research in movement patterns, material design, and even communication signals. Additionally, ethical considerations regarding animal welfare must be paramount. Robots should not cause undue stress or harm to fish, and their use should be carefully monitored.