Envirobot - a robotic eel that can swim through contaminated water to find the source of pollution - is being developed at EPFL in Switzerland. Jim Drury reports.
Envirobot can swim through contaminated water to find the source of pollution. Equipped with chemical, physical and biological sensors, the robot moves through water without stirring up mud or disturbing marine life. Each module has a small electric motor. If one module stops working, it can be replaced quickly on site. SOUNDBITE (English) EPFL BIOROBOTICS LABORATORY (BIOROB) RESEARCHER, ALESSANDRO CRESPI, SAYING: "You can see it's a body that can deform, so every element has a single degree of freedom that can oscillate and all these degrees of freedom can create these kind of swimming motion that is typical of eels and lampreys, and this is what makes the robot move in water, so it just oscillation, there is no propellers or any other kind of other actuators." SOUNDBITE (English) EPFL BIOROBOTICS LABORATORY (BIOROB) RESEARCHER, BEHZAD BAYAT, SAYING: "Envirobot is quite small, so one man can actually take it to the lake, drop it in water, ...take samples and then process the data on site or process the data later in the lab. So in that sense there is no need to bring the lab facilities to the lake, or taking samples and bringing back to the lab to process." The sensors indicate whether pollutants are present and pinpoint general water toxicity. Researchers hope they could one day detect heavy metals like mercury and specific pollutants. They're currently testing Envirobot in Lake Geneva.