Towards a Biorobotic Electrosensory System

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Weakly electric fish hunt and navigate without visual cues by sensing perturbations of a self-generated electric field. The ability to detect, characterize and localize objects using electric fields is called electrolocation. This capability could be beneficial for underwater robots sent to explore dark aquatic environments, from those on Earth to those that might exist on other planets and moons such as Europa. Here we describe initial progress on the development of an artificial sensor array that could provide electrosensory capabilities to a submarine robotic explorer. The design of the sensor array and the associated signal processing algorithms are inspired by ongoing empirical and theoretical studies of signal detection, estimation, and active sensor positioning in weakly electric fish as they hunt for small prey. Here we describe a simple test setup consisting of a small electrosensory array and a robotic platform for controlling the movement of an electrolocation target. This system allows us to acquire and analyze electrosensory signals similar to those obtained a weakly electric fish.

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