Swiss researchers have unleashed a robotic eel in Lake Geneva, and their Envirobot successfully detected where the researchers had poured salt along the shore.
Because it swims on the surface, Envirobot does not stir up mud or hurt animals. It can be sent on programmed missions or just go about like a slithery Roomba.
"The use of a robot-snake has several advantages. It allows real-time measurements to be collected, more quickly than if stationary stations in lakes are deployed. And compared to more traditional submarine propeller robots, it can sneak up with less chance of getting stuck in algae or branches. The robot also creates less wake, so disperses less pollution," says Auke Ijspeert, director of the Laboratory of BioRob (EPFL) BioRob. "Envirobot is able to follow a programmed route, but it also has the potential to make its own decisions, and go back on its own to the source of pollution." For example, moving gradually to where the toxicity is greatest.