A robotic fish has sailed across an aquatic uncanny valley by tricking real fish into following it upstream.

The feat could lead to better understanding of fish behavior and perhaps some means to divert them from environmental disaster scenes.

“Although some previous works have successfully investigated the interactions between live animals and robots or animal-like replicas, none of these studies have considered robots that are designed to simulate animal locomotion,” wrote the authors of a new study about the robot.

The work, conducted by Stefano Marras and Maurizio Porfiri of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, was published online Feb. 22 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Forming schools confers both advantages and disadvantages to fish. The collaborative groups can improve access to mates, make it easier to move through water and confuse predators. On the downside, schools increase competition for food and mates, and provide an excellent way for parasites and disease to spread. Understanding why and how fish school is an open question in science.

'If accepted by the animals, robotic fish may act as leaders.'To help investigate the dynamics of fish schooling, Marras and Porfiri designed a robot inspired by Notemigonus crysoleucas, a species of Golden shiner. The plastic-covered robofish was twice the size of the real fish but mimicked its back-and-forth tail motion.

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