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A team of Swiss engineers and microbiologists have created a robotic eel that swims around bodies of water and tests them for pollution. Nicknamed Envirobot, the device can even detect sources of water pollution and comprises chambers that contain clean water and organisms that react to pollutants, allowing scientists to learn more about the water where it operates.

Envirobot is a robotic eel designed by microbiologists and engineers with the aim of studying the characteristics of polluted bodies of water. In swimming around them, it measures the level of chemical contamination and can even locate the source of the problem, as reported by french website Numerama.


Tested in Lake Geneva


Created by robotics experts at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, the device has already been tested in real conditions in Lake Geneva. The robo-eel passed with flying colours, carrying out the brief it was given: to create a map of water temperatures in the lake.

Evidently unable to contaminate the lake for the purposes of carrying out tests, the team of scientists have as yet been unable to assess the ability of the device to detect water pollution and calculate its scale. They remain confident as to its capabilities, however, and believe the robotic eel’s design will allow it to operate autonomously in polluted water or to follow a pre-programmed path in taking and analysing samples of water.



A smooth mover


Measuring 1.5 metres in length, Envirobot is powered by a series of motors positioned in its interconnected modules, while the head is the control centre, containing the equipment it needs to get around. The device moves in such a way that it does not create a wake, disperse pollutants or disturb wildlife.

Its various chambers each perform different functions. While some are equipped with sensors programmed to take temperature and conductivity readings, others are filled with clean water or left empty. It is in these last two types of modules that scientists have placed organisms that react in a specific way when exposed to certain pollutants. In comparing their behaviour from one chamber to another, scientists can make numerous findings.


Comparing clean and polluted water


"For example, we developed bacteria that generate light when exposed to very low concentrations of mercury," said Envirobot Project Coordinator Jan Roelof van der Meer. "We can detect those changes using luminometers and then transmit the data in the form of electrical signals.

As he also explained, another method involves using two compartments filled with tiny crustaceans called Daphnia: "Their movement is affected by water toxicity. By comparing changes in their movement relative to the control group, we can get an idea of how toxic the water is".


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