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Robotic Fish Saving the World by Saving Fish

Sensor Fish robot (c) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Sensor Fish robot (c) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

We earlier featured a robotic fish that can detect pollution.  Now, if that robot is trying to save humans from themselves and the pollution that people generate, this one is trying to save other fish.

So while hydroelectric dams help us displace fossil fuels, they were often opposed by conservationists because they kill some salmon migrating during the spawning season.  Previously, most of the fish death was attributed to the turbine’s spinning blades.  It turns out, that this is just one of the dangers that these sexually excited fish face.  They also meet the grim reaper because of the huge pressure differentials within the turbine chamber, rapid water flow changes, and the pounding turbulence as well.  It wouldn’t be wise to dump in fish into a live turbine to see what happens.  Instead, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Lab came up with Sensor Fish to tell scientists how it feels like to be in a blender, or even a hydroelectric turbine.

Now on its second iteration, Sensor Fish is like a young salmon at 3.5 inches (8.75 cm.), 1 inch diameter (2.5 cm.) and tipping the scales at 1.5 ounces (42.5 gm.). It’s packed to the gills, so to speak, with sensors.  It collects 2,048 measurements per second while it makes a five minute run through the turbine generator, giving researchers data about pressure changes, rotational velocity, water temperature and water flow acceleration.

The robot fish costs US$1,200 to make, a huge drop from its US$5,000 predecessor.  They’ve already been used to evaluate two dams in Washington state and are bound to check out three other hydroelectric dams in Alaska, Australia and the Mekong.

Hopefully, through Sensor Fish, we will be able to design hydroelectric generators to be safer for the fish so that they end up mating, instead of as minced meat.

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