Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a fish! More specifically, it's a robotic fish that can help keep track of water quality in our waterways.
The robot fish named GRACE (which stands for Gliding Robot ACE) uses a number of sensors to autonomously swim through waterways and analyze various bits of data, ranging from changes in temperature to overall water quality. If the robot finds anything unusual, GRACE will send readings over Wi-Fi to those monitoring the robot.
The fish bot glides through water with its plane-like wings, rather than using flippers like the previous model did, and it uses a water-pumping system to propel itself and to move up and down. (The research team removed the flippers because they drained the battery more quickly than they would've liked.) While this means GRACE can now swim for longer, it does make it a little slower and less maneuverable than the flipper-based version.
Creator Xiaobo Tan and his team from Michigan State University tested GRACE in the Kalamazoo River last year. It was the perfect testbed for the fish’s water sensors due to an oil spill in 2010, and GRACE certainly picked up some interesting readings. It found not only high concentrations of oil downstream, but some traces of oil upstream too.
Readings like those in the Kalamazoo River test can indicate where work is needed to free water from anything harmful to creatures or the environment. Researchers are still hard at work on GRACE, but it's already smaller and lighter than other commercial underwater gliders.