Scientists hope to build better robots by studying the subtle movements of fish

November 30, 2018
Image: Noah Cowan

The study examined fish that generate a weak electric field around their bodies to help them with communication and navigation (Image: Noah Cowan)

The constant movement of fish that seems random is actually precisely deployed to provide them at any moment with the best sensory feedback they need to navigate the world, Johns Hopkins University researchers have found.

The finding, published in the journal Current Biology, enhances our understanding of active sensing behaviors performed by all animals, including humans, such as whisking, touching, and sniffing. It also demonstrates how robots built with better sensors could interact with their environment more effectively.

“There’s a saying in biology that when the world is still, you stop being able to sense it,” says senior author Noah Cowan, a mechanical engineer and roboticist at Johns Hopkins. “You have to actively move to perceive your world. But what we found that wasn’t known before is that animals constantly regulate these movements to optimize sensory input.”

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