Scientists involved in robotics research are increasingly looking toward biological systems for solutions to specific challenges, and when one considers that nature has been solving problems for rather a lot longer than we humans have, this makes sense. Such is the reasoning behind BIOSwimmer: an underwater surveillance robot created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S and T) that takes its design cues from the tuna fish.

Biomimetic robotry has previously given rise to all manner of weird machines, such as the Robo-Bat, Robo-Fish and the artificial butterfly.

"It's all about distilling the science," explains David Taylor, program manager for the BIOSwimmer in S and T's Borders and Maritime Security Division. "We're using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system that works exceedingly well."

BIOSwimmer packs a battery-powered on-board computer suite used for navigation, sensor processing and communications, while the external shell sports a flexible aft section. Appropriately placed sets of pectoral and other fins lend it high maneuverability and the unit is remote controlled by a laptop-wielding operator. The robot also features interchangeable sensors which allow it to be configured on a per-mission basis, lending maximum compatibility for each given situation.

The unique design of BIOSwimmer is said to afford surveillance in places which may not be accessible with a larger unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), and if one compares the BIOSwimmer with the imposing looking Talisman Autonomous Underwater System, for example, it’s clear that a more compact and flexible robot could be just what’s required for accessing such challenging areas.

Future implementation of the BIOSwimmer may include the inspection of the interior voids of ships such as flooded bilges and tanks, in addition to harbors, piers, and platform area searches.

Work on the BIOSwimmer robot is still ongoing and Boston Engineering Corporation's Advanced Systems Group (ASG) in Waltham, Massachusetts, is currently developing the BIOSwimmer for S and T.

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