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Robots help to answer age-old question of why fish school by Carla Avolio Study using biomimetic fish-like robots shows that swimming closely together offers fish hydrodynamic benefits — research project with participation from University of Konstanz researchers provides first experimental validation of an answer to an old question.

A fish school is a striking demonstration of synchronicity.

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Yet centuries of study have left a basic question unanswered: do fish save energy by swimming in schools? Using biomimetic fish-like robots, the researchers show that fish could take advantage of the swirls of water generated by those in front by applying a simple behavioural rule.


By adjusting their tail beat relative to near neighbours — a strategy called vortex phase matching — robots were shown to benefit hydrodynamically from a near neighbour no matter where they are positioned with respect to that neighbour. The previously unknown rule, revealed by the robots, was subsequently shown to be the strategy used by free swimming fish.

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The study is reported on 26 October in Nature Communications. Accurately doing so in free swimming fish has so otthon anti aging receptek not been possible, alpamare pfaeffikon suisse anti aging so past studies have sought to answer this question instead through theoretical models and predictions.

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The new study, however, has overcome this barrier to experimental testing. The researchers developed a 3D robotic fish that has a soft tail fin and swims with an undulating motion that mimics accurately the movement of a real fish.

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But unlike their live counterparts, the robots allow for direct measurement of the power consumption associated with swimming together versus alone. Running over 10, trials, they tested follower fish in every possible position relative to leaders — and then compared energy use with solo swimming.

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The results showed a clear difference in energy consumption for robots that swam alone versus those that swam in pairs. The cause of this, they discovered, is the way that fish in front influence the hydrodynamics of fish behind.

Vortex phase matching as a strategy for schooling in robots and in fish, Nature Communications

The energy consumed by a follower fish is determined by two factors: its distance behind the leader and alpamare pfaeffikon suisse anti aging relative timing of the tail beats of the follower with respect to that of the leader. In other words, it matters whether the follower fish is positioned close to the front or far behind the leader and how the follower adjusts its tail beats to exploit the vortices created by the leader.

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To save energy, it turns out that the secret is in synchronisation. But as followers fall behind, they should go out of synch having more and more lag as compared to the tail beat of the leader.

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Visualising vortices In order to visualise the hydrodynamics, researchers emitted tiny hydrogen bubbles into the water and imaged them with a laser — a technique that made the vortices created by the swimming motion of the robots visible. This showed that vortices are shed by the leader fish and move downstream.

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It also showed that robots could utilise these vortices in various ways. The result in real fish But do real fish use the strategy of vortex phase matching to save energy?

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To answer that, the researchers created a simple hydrodynamic model that predicts what real fish should do if they are using vortex phase matching. They used AI-assisted analysis of body posture of goldfish swimming together and found, indeed, that the strategy is being used in nature.

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Due to the difficulties of measuring energy costs in fish, previous studies have mostly used theoretical models and predictions to answer this question. Original publication: Vortex phase matching as a strategy for schooling in robots and in fish.

Nature Communications.

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