Risk Management Through Biomimicry: Aquaai Uses Nature-Based Designs to Collect Underwater Data

By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

Inventor Simeon Pietrkosky co-founded Aquaai in 2014 after his young daughter learned about the crises facing the ocean and asked her father to invent a robot that could help save the seas.

Using biomimicry as a design ethos, he created an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that looks, feels, and moves like a fish. 

The torpedo-shaped robot, which is partially covered in soft orange “scales,” copies the physics of how fish swim to propel itself through the water—it flexes its body to move its tail back and forth, while the pectoral fins on its sides assist with direction and balance. This fin propulsion design also reduces the amount of energy needed to power the AUV because the robot, like the fish that inspired its design, moves through water with efficiency. Aquaai has built these robot fish in sizes ranging from 30 centimeters to 1.5 meters in length.

Aquaai’s proprietary fish-like AUV. Photo Courtesy of Aquaai.

When conceptualizing the design, Pietrkosky hoped to make his AUV unobtrusive so that it could immerse itself in underwater habitats as it collects data. The robot is equipped with cameras and sensors that can relay real-time data and high quality video feeds. Small enough to be deployed by a single person, the robot can be used to monitor aquaculture fisheries and other underwater industries. The AUV can monitor temperature, water quality, pH, and dissolved oxygen at fisheries—metrics that are crucial to maintaining the health of fish and minimizing negative externalities that can result from poorly managed aquaculture. With sustainable aquaculture playing an increasingly important role in feeding the growing human population while decreasing pressure on overfished wild species so that the ocean can thrive, access to such data is essential.

Aquaai markets its product as, “the easiest, most effective, and least expensive way to access digital and environmental data from the waterways.” In addition to its uses in the aquaculture industry, Aquaai’s technology can be put to use monitoring water quality after storms, identifying the source of nutrient pollution from agriculture, and tracking plastic pollution. Its small design means that it is not limited to the open ocean—it can be deployed in aquaculture enclosures, ports, and narrow waterways. 

Since finishing extensive trials and fine-tuning their product, Aquaai has been busy preparing its updated AUVs for customers—the company has already received preorders for 86 robots. Aquaai co-founder Liane Thompson sees this as an encouraging first step towards bringing to fruition the company’s mission—using biomimicry to protect waterways from the negative impacts of human activity.

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