The Wise Robot Looks for Life in the ‘Twilight Zone’
Using stereo cameras and notification algorithms, Mesobot changes the motion of its listeners and follows them. Yoerger and colleagues demonstrated the potential of a robot in Monterey Bay at 650 miles, as it detected and followed the fish. Ironically, for half an hour, he quietly followed the weakened larvacean, which resembles a tiny insect and builds a “house” to store its food. (The robot eventually disrupted the exterior of the house, but the interior and the animals were not disturbed.) Based on their experiments, the team found that the robot could work for more than 24 hours and reach a depth of 3,200 feet.
In the meantime, Mesobot may not be collecting the animals, but in the future it could use a gravitational pull to catch them. Just looking at a seafood with a camera won’t tell you what they’ve been eating, for example, why it fits in with a food kit — you may need to stretch there. If you want to learn about their body, you need a body type, too. “The idea is that if you follow animals for a while, you will catch them. I think it’s possible, “said Yoerger.
Mesobot may seem like a big issue for AirPods, but compared to other submarines and marine robots, it is much smaller. Probably the most popular is Alvin, which also serves the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It weighs 45,000 pounds and only starts from one ship. The size of Mesobot means that it is inexpensive to build and easy to use, which could open the platform for many researchers. “This is the best of them all,” says Singh, of Northeastern University. “We don’t need any extra stuff – big ropes, big ships.”
Scientists have long known that living things move around the globe on a daily basis, but they still have to learn by working at different depths, or by using sonar to determine their exact location. Other than that, it’s not like you can whip a tracker on a jellyfish or a larvacean to monitor its movements in detail. “We’re seeing a lot of fish,” said Luiz Rocha, a fisherman at the California Academy of Science, who studied rocks in the west but did not participate in the new project. “We don’t even know how they swim, or how they eat or how they breed.”
And scientists have no idea how different species of living things move through the water; For example, which animals follow their meat above and below the water? Do the animals move to more complex schools, or in some other way? Or, how does sea temperature affect the movement of a particular animal, and how can this affect others in the food chain? Maritime writers may try to trace them with submersibles, but anything more subtle than Mesobot would likely threaten both studies. “But if you have a robot that can stay up to 24 hours immersed, and follow a fish or a group of fish all the time, then you might consider this amazing learning experience,” says Rocha.
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