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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December, 2004, 18:09 GMT
Roboshark to hunt tourists
By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News science reporter

Roboshark, Andrew Sneath
Roboshark swam with wild sharks while carrying a movie camera on its head
The world's only robotic shark is going to make some electronic friends.

The star of last year's BBC documentary, Smart Sharks, will retire to a watery heaven - complete with robotic tuna to feast on.

Roboshark's inventor, Andrew Sneath, has designed a giant aquarium, which will house an impressive panoply of robotic fish in a seven-metre-deep tank.

Visitors will be invited to explore the aquatic world of robots from the safety

of little submarine pods.

Indeed, tourists will be very glad of their bite-proof pods, because Roboshark is programmed to enjoy a spot of human hunting.

The purpose-built complex, which will be situated near Birmingham, is expected to open in 2006.

"The tank is really a stage," Andrew Sneath told the BBC News website. "There will be all sorts of special effects with lights and bubbles. It should look amazing."

Shark intelligence

In its original role, Roboshark swam with wild sharks while carrying a movie camera in its head, so it could film the animals behaving in a natural way.

Its handiwork was screened in a BBC documentary about shark intelligence, narrated by David Attenborough.

During filming, Roboshark swam with whale sharks, the largest fish on the planet, and navigated its way through murky mangrove swamps to rub fins with fearsome bull sharks.

David Attenborough with Roboshark, Andrew Sneath
Sir David Attenborough narrated Smart Sharks: Swimming with Roboshark
After the programme had been completed, Andrew Sneath loaned Roboshark to the National Aquarium in Plymouth, where it attracted 4,000 visitors a day.

Now the electronic beast's ability to draw the crowds will be put to good use in the 3,600-sq-m "Hydrodome".

The innovative leisure centre will contain a 40m-diameter aquarium, which the designers hope will encourage interest in robotics, artificial intelligence and marine technologies.

"There is an education side to this," explained Mr Sneath. "In the Hydrodome we are going to have robot labs for kids and adults to learn about building and programming a robot."

Roboshark's companions will include a shoal of robotic tuna - dubbed Tintuna - and a collection of robotic sting rays.

Andrew Sneath will programme all the fish to behave in as natural a way as possible.

"The Tintuna school like real fish," Mr Sneath said. "They have cameras in their eyes, and will group together when they see the shark as a protective measure."

Roboshark will also be programmed to chase the tuna, but only if it sees a lone fish moving on its own.

"If a tuna leaves the group, the shark will chase it," said Mr Sneath. "And if it catches one, it will stun it. The fish will go all catatonic and float to the surface for a while.

"And our stingrays won't like light - if a diver shines a torch on them, they will shoot for cover."

Tintuna, Andrew Sneath
Roboshark's companions will include a shoal of robotic tuna - dubbed Tintuna
Diver training

As well as tourists, who will buzz about under the water in their mini submarines, the Hydrodome will also welcome trainee scuba divers.

Bob Tattrie, President of the Bromsgrove Diving Club, has already had a sneak preview of Tintuna and Roboshark in action.

"We swam with the tuna and it was really good," he said. "It swims like a real fish even if it didn't quite look like one."

Mr Tattrie also believes the facility will be useful for training novice divers.

He said: "I think the Hydrodome project is very exciting and we would like to use the facilities.

"Having robotic fish swimming about will give new divers familiarity because trainees are not used to having fish around them."


SEE ALSO:
The shark's the star
01 Aug 03 |  Entertainment
Alert over vanishing sharks
16 Jan 03 |  Science/Nature


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