Robots infiltrate fish schools, garner followers

Are fish smart enough to tell the difference between real fish and replicant fish? Apparently not. Researcher Maurizio Porfiri is developing robot swimmers that can interact with schools of fish and even lead them around.

You might think Porfiri, an engineering professor at Polytechnic Institute of New York University, might be aiming to use these infiltrator bots to lead large groups of fish into a net for a free aquarium. That seems to be theoretically possible, but the goal of Porfiri's project  is to get robots to help fish avoid hazardous areas like power plant turbines.

The prototype robot fish looks a bit like a hand grenade, far cruder than other robotic swimmers we've seen that are designed to monitor pollution or lake algae.

But verisimilitude doesn't seem to be important for leadership. Porfiri and other scientists have observed that what distinguishes fish leaders is that they swish their tails faster, circle around, and accelerate to gather a school, and then lead it.

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