Biomimetics is an interdisciplinary field which sits at the interface between biology and engineering. The idea is to "borrow ideas from nature" to incorporate them into novel engineering design. Nature has been faced with the same challenges we have for much longer, and has come up with a set of elegant solutions which are usually highly tuned to requirement, and often highly efficient in their use of energy.

It is this efficient use of energy which attracted us to biomimetics to solve the problem of getting around underwater. One of the most limiting factors in the design of autonomous submersible robots is finding a way to power them. Batteries are heavy, expensive bits of equipment which take up very significant amounts of the space in an autonomous submersible, or if their volume is kept small, then they limit the range, and hence the usefulness of the machine. Anything we can do to improve the energetic efficiency, and hence reduce the size of the batteries required, will therefore really make a difference.

The eventual goal of the FILOSE research project is to build a robot which can swim upstream, and find its own hydrodynamically efficient way through the flow. It is natural therefore to look at nature's solution to the same problem, often refered to as a "fish".

In the FILOSE research project, we have looked to biomimetics for ideas in almost every aspect of our design. The overall external design of the robot is based loosely on a swimming trout, one of nature's best upstream swimmers. By studying the movement of a real trout in a flow, we are learning the fish's secrets, and incorporating some of those into the design of our robot's propulsor. The sensor system is based on the lateral line of fish, an organ we don't have, but which allows a fish to detect changes in the flow around its body. We are developing an artificial lateral line system which is based closely on the fish's, and which we are using to detect turbulence in the oncoming flow.

The robot is turning into a successful demonstrator of the biomimetic approach. It will be a while yet before it can compete with nature's elegant design, but we're slowly catching up the 4-billion year head start we gave her!