Robotic tuna: The key to future marine security?

The future of underwater security and pollution monitoring could lie with … a robotic tuna?

The US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate is making just that case, as it works to develop an unmanned underwater vehicle whose shape and movements are inspired by the tuna fish.

Why the tuna? With its streamlined body, finely tuned muscles and unique sensory and control systems, the tuna is “one of the fastest and most maneuverable creatures on the planet.” An underwater robot with tuna-like capabilities could easily inspect flooded bilges of ships, hard-to-reach marine propulsion systems and below-surface areas of harbors and piers.

The DHS’s so-called BIOSwimmer is being developed by Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group. Battery-powered and designed for long-duration work, the device features internal components and external sensing designed to operate in challenging environments like constricted spaces and high-viscosity fluids (such as spilled oil).

“It’s all about distilling the science,” said David Taylor, program manager for the BIOSwimmer in S&T’s borders and maritime security division. “It’s called ‘biomimetics.’ We’re using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system that works exceedingly well.”

Taylor added, “Tuna have had millions of years to develop their ability to move in the water with astounding efficiency. Hopefully we won’t take that long.”

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