Envirobot: A robotic eel designed to track water pollution

A four-foot long robotic eel, designed to track water pollution, is testing the waters in Lake Geneva.

Envirobot, developed by a team of scientists in Switzerland, can swim through contaminated water to find the source of pollution.

The water snake-like device comprises of several special-purpose modules, each of which has a small electric motor which changes curvature allowing it to swim like an eel. Envirobot can also be easily taken apart for transport or to change its length as needed.

Envirobot’s modules all contain a type of sensor – some measure temperature or conductivity, and others are filled with biological material or organisms. Those modules fill with water as the robot swims, and the reaction of the organisms indicates whether certain pollutants are present, as well as the overall water toxicity. These biological sensors include fish scales, tiny crustaceans and bacteria.

The robot can swim on a route, or make its own way through a body of water to find the source of pollution.

Envirobot was designed to swim in a way that doesn’t stir up mud or disturb aquatic organisms, and the information it provides could allow scientists to better address the issue of pollution in the waterways.

Researchers from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland are aiming to adapt Envirobot so it can eventually swim underwater – a feature that would enable it to collect a whole new range of environmental data, such as a 3D pollution map of, say, an entire lake.

It could also be programmed to “sniff out” pollution across large bodies of water, which would help environmentalists block off sources of pollution at the source before serious damage is done.

By tracking the pollution levels, Envirobot will be able to pinpoint, for example, fertiliser runoff from a farm, or illegal waste dumping by a chemical company.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea


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