In a bid to boost inspection efforts in the nation's busy ports and harbors, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been developing a series of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to reach areas that are inaccessible to human investigators. However, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a nonprofit advocacy group, a problem that has plagued engineers in this field relates to propulsion systems that have so far been unable to function efficiently. Now, the nonprofit says, a new UUV has been invented that mimics the swimming patterns of tuna.
Known as the BIOSwimmer, this proposed UUV is designed to allow the robot to move its tail just like a tuna does. This function helps reduce power consumption from the internal battery, enabling it to perform security sweeps for longer periods of time. Duties of the proposed "robo-tuna" include investigating deepwater targets like chests, areas beneath ships or inlets that humans can't reach.
"It's all about distilling the science," David Taylor, a programming manager for the BIOSwimmer project, told industry news source PhysOrg. "It's called 'biomimetics.' We're using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system that works exceedingly well. Tuna have had millions of years to develop their ability to move in the water with astounding efficiency. Hopefully we won't take that long."
The designers also sought to make the BIOSwimmer more useful to remote investigation teams by simplifying the control systems for function on a laptop. The "robo-tuna" transmits data to the central computer that can either upload instructions into the UUV or allow the operator to pilot it manually.
DHS has given no official timeline for when the BIOSwimmer would enter commercial production or see field usage. However, a prototype is currently undergoing testing, so there is a good chance fishermen may soon see a curious yellow robot skim by their boats.