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Technology inspired by nature, to help nature.

That's the case at the University of Michigan, where engineer Xiaobo Tan and zoologist Elena Litchman recently marveled at how efficiently fish swim. That led them to create a fish-shaped robot that can gather data underwater!

Such technology could help scientists gather more precise data than previously available. And that could deepen our knowledge of what's happening just under the surface of critical water supplies and habitats.

Their prototype is the size and shape of a small perch. It sports fins, a tail and a tiny motor that keeps it swimming, swimmingly. It can't handle stiff currents, yet. But Tan says it does great in still water.

Eye-like sensors avoid obstacles and a tiny transmitter sends and receives data. Release several into a lake and scientists could coordinate their movements, like so many tiny, robotic Esther Williams in a water ballet.

But they're hardly entertainment. Inside 'roboperch,' Tan and Litchman hope to one day pack monitoring devices to gather information on temperature, oxygen levels, and even harmful algae.

Just one small robofish in a big pond, but it has a chance to make a big splash for science, and nature.

Script by Gail Davis

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