Infoscience

Thesis

Shoaling with fish: using miniature robotic agents to close the interaction loop with groups of zebrafish Danio rerio

Robotic animals are nowadays developed for various types of research, such as bio-inspired robotics, biomimetics and animal behavior studies. The miniaturization of technologies and the increase in performance of embedded systems allowed engineers to develop more powerful, sophisticated and miniature devices. The case of robotic fish is a typical example of such challenging design: the fish locomotion and body movements are difficult to reproduce and the device has to move autonomously underwater. More specifically, in the case of collective animal behavior research, the robotic device has to interact with animals by generating and exploiting signals relevant for social behavior. Once perceived by the animal society as conspecific, these robots can become powerful tools to study the animal behaviors, as they can at the same time monitor the changes in behavior and influence the collective choices of the animal society. In this work, we present novel robotized tools that can integrate shoals of fish in order to study their collective behaviors. This robotic platform is composed of two subsystems: a miniature wheeled mobile robot that can achieve dynamic movements and multi-robot long-duration experiments, and a robotic fish lure that is able to beat its tail to generate fish-like body movements. The two subsystems are coupled with magnets which allows the wheeled mobile robot to steer the robotic fish lure so that it reaches very high speeds and accelerations while achieving shoaling. An experimental setup to conduct studies on mixed societies of artificial and living fish was designed to facilitate the experiments for biologists. A software framework was also implemented to control the robots in a closed-loop using data extracted from visual tracking that retrieved the position of the robots and the fish. We selected the zebrafish Danio rerio as a model to perform experiments to qualify our system. We used the current state of the art on the zebrafish social behavior to define the specifications of the robots, and we performed stimuli analysis to improve their developments. Bio-inspired controllers were designed based on data extracted from experiments with zebrafish for the robots to mimic the zebrafish locomotion underwater. Experiments involving a robot with a shoal of fish in a constrained environment showed that the locomotion of the robot was one of the main factor to affect the collective behavior of zebrafish. We also shown that the body movements and the biomimetic appearance of the lure could increase its acceptance by fish. Finally, an experiment involving a mixed society of fish and robots qualified the robotic system to be integrated among a zebrafish shoal and to be able to influence the collective decisions of the fish. These results are very promising for the field of fish-robot interaction studies, as we showed the effect of the robots in long-duration experiments and repetitively, with the same order of response from the animals.

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