Design Engineering

Autonomous robotic fish to track pollution

By Design Engineering Staff   

General engineering R&D

SHOAL research project combines advanced robotics, AI and chemical analysis to deploy a school of fishy environmental investigators.

A European research consortium, called SHOAL, has developed a school of autonomous robotic fish capable of working together to detect and identify pollution in ports and other aquatic areas. Headed by British engineering consultancy BMT Group, the project is set to begin trials in northern Spain’s Gijon harbour.

“SHOAL has introduced the capability of cutting the detection and analysis time of pollutants in sea water from weeks to just a few seconds,” said Luke Speller, SHOAL’s project leader and senior research scientist at BMT Group.

According to Speller, each robotic fish is equipped with artificial intelligence – combined with sonar in its “nose” and other sensors — that allows it to map its location, navigate to where it needs to go, avoid obstacles, and position itself relative to other SHOAL fish.

In addition, chemical sensors in its body cavity record what samples have been taken and where they were taken from, as well as their chemical composition. While each 1.5-meter robot fish can autonomously explore and investigate the harbour, the fish can work together to monitor and track down sources of pollution using ultrasonic communications.


According to the SHOAL researchers, they built a realistic robotic fish not for aesthetics but for design’s high manoeuvrability as well as its ability to blend into the marine environment without disrupting indigenous marine life.

SHOAL is a consortium of 6 European organisations including: the project leaders, BMT Group, who are responsible for artificial intelligence; the University of Essex which is looking after robotic development; the Tyndall National Institute, which is responsible for the chemical sensors; the University of Strathclyde responsible for Hydrodynamic Research. In addition, Thales Safare is responsible for the communication network and the Port Authority of Gijon will serve as the testing port.


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