Mussels, fish and water lilies populate the waterways beneath Venice: nothing new, you may think, yet in this case these are underwater robots. The project, EU-FET subCULTron, which involves scientists from 6 nations, is funded by the European Union (Horizon2020) and is intended to study the habitat of the Venetian Seabed, to collect data and recognise the changes in the environment. The robots adapt to the surrounding environment and act like a real swarm of fish thanks to an innovative, individual and collective application of artificial intelligence. The test carried out last September and presented as "the world’s largest autonomous underwater robot swarm to date", will lead to the development of 120 interconnected fish/robots.
How do they work? The aPads, the artificial water lilies, float on the water surface and act as a platform to support other two types of underwater robots: they carry their 'companions' to a position defined by GPS coordinates and 'recharge' them with the solar panels with which they are covered. The aMussels, the artificial mussels, explore the seabed. These cylindrical devices are the memory of the system: with the input given by the water lilies, they analyse algae, plankton and marine fauna. Lastly, the aFish, the fish robots, explore the environment in autonomy but, communicating data to the other fish of the swarm, they influence their behaviour.
The capital of Veneto is not new to these experiments: in 2015 swarms of robot submarines were used to monitor the MOSE (Experimental Electromechanical Module) and, by monitoring sea temperature and salinity, to prevent high tides.