4 Fantastic fishing mutations

In the geeky world of robotics, there’s something seriously fishy going on.

From soft bodied remote controlled fish to bionic muscles made from fishing line, fish and fishing are inspiring some truly astounding developments in science and technology.

It’s a case of fish and chips – but not as we know it.

1. Fly line muscles

Robot arm human arm wrestle

Image source: Arm Wrestling
100 times stronger than human muscles

Who would have thought the humble fishing line could be transformed into robotic muscles with superhuman strength? Well, that’s just what scientists at the University of Texas have achieved.

The muscles are made by twisting bundles of monofilament fibres and metal coated sewing thread to resemble a highly wound rubber band. When heat is applied either by chemical reaction or electrical current, the bundle contracts with incredible power.

In fact the ‘muscles’ are 100 times more powerful than the same weight of human muscle. To put that in perspective, it’s the same amount of force as that generated by a jet engine.

Applications for the muscles are myriad and include powering prosthetic limbs, opening and closing greenhouse windows, and even textiles that react to body temperature to allow more air to circulate the body. Not bad for a fly line!

2. Robot fish

We know that fish are a great design – brains at the front, soft body behind. It’s great for swimming and the tail is super flexible – ideal for escaping predators. Now researchers have designed and built a robot fish that swims just like the real thing. The ‘head’ contains the electrics and the ‘tail’ is made from soft silicon.

Gas released from inbuilt canisters through tubes in the tail, enables it to flex in exactly the same way as a real fish. The robot is controlled by wi fi signals transmitted through the water, and just in case it’s mistaken for a tasty snack by a hungry predator, the robot is programmed to perform the same escape manoeuvre as as a real fish in the same time. And how fast is that? 100 milliseconds. Amazing.

3. Pollution hunting

Shoal of fish

Image source: Paul Terry
Project SHOAL is fighting pollution

Robot fish are much more than just clever toys, they’re helping scientists protect real fish and other marine life. Pollution monitoring in ports is time consuming and expensive. Divers have to collect samples manually, then send them to a lab for analysis. Often by the time results are ready it’s too late, contaminants have already spread.

But two years ago, all that changed. Scientists working on project, SHOAL, designed a free swimming fish robot that could collect and analyse information, beaming the results to scientists on shore in real time.

By mimicking the way real fish swim, the robots are more efficient and compared to propeller driven underwater vehicles, they’re more manoeuverable and far less likely to get trapped by weed and other underwater debris.

4. Jellyfish shredder


(Skip to 1 minute 10 seconds to see the shredding in action)

Thanks to rising sea temperatures and overfishing, jellyfish populations worldwide are booming. Jellyfish swarms outcompete other marine creatures for food, break fishing nets and clog nuclear reactor coolant intakes – not to mention the harm their stings can cause humans.

But now Korean scientists have come up with an answer to the problem, new self propelled robots that hunt in packs. The smart devices communicate with each other to corral jelly swarms, then pulverise them using sharp bladed propellers.

And boy can they shred some jelly. Each machine can liquify nearly a tonne of marine stingers every hour. Now that’s got to sting!