Oct. 21 - The next generation of weapons for marine warfare may look and behave like fish. Scientists in Singapore are copying the natural movement of carp to develop a sea-going robot for use in military stealth missions, search and rescue operations and ocean floor research. Rob Muir reports.
The National University of Singapore's robotic fish is being developed to carry out deep sea missions too difficult or dangerous for humans - from pipeline inspection to military surveillance. It's designers say the autonomous prototype can be preprogrammed to dive and ascend through the water, using the water itself as ballast. Professpor Xu Jianxin says it will be ideal for use in warfare. (SOUNDBITE) PROFESSOR XU JIANXIN, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE, DEPARTMENT OF ELECTRICAL AND COMPUTER ENGINEERING, SAYING: "First, it is energy efficient, it can swim for a long time, and second, it can operate well, it is flexible and can make different complicated moves in a small space. Third, it produces a low level of noise, it is quiet, not like the old submarines with the splashing sounds of the water, that even the enemies can hear." The robot is designed to swim like a carp. The researchers spent months studying a live carp, recording the details of its muscle movement and turning them into algorithms to drive the mechanical version. The prototype is powered by batteries which can last up to an hour. But the team wants to improve their efficiency and, says Ren Qinyuan, the robot's mechanical systems. (SOUNDBITE) RESEARCHER REN QINYUAN, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE, DEPARTMENT OF ELECTRICAL AND COMPUTER ENGINEERING, SAYING: "Especially when it reaches a certain depth, of 1.8m, or even 2m or lower, water pressure will be huge, which will impact its machinery as well as its electrical components. That's why going into deep depths will bring up numerous problems, which is why we need to research more into this to solve these problems." The researchers also want to equip their robot with sensors, cameras and GPS units, eventually turning their prototype into ocean-going eyes and ears for humans back on land.