Chinese scientists develop robot fish that gobble up microplastics

A fish-shaped robot, which researchers say can suck up microplastics in shallow water, moves under the direction of a near-infrared (NIR) light, in this screen grab taken from a handout video provided to Reuters July 12, 2022. Zhang Xinxing’s research team from Polymer Research Institute, Sichuan University/Handout via REUTERS

BEIJING — Robot fish that “eat” microplastics may one day help to clean up the world’s polluted oceans, says a team of Chinese scientists from Sichuan University in southwest China.

Soft to touch and just 1.3 centimeters (0.5 inch) in size, these robots already suck up microplastics in shallow water.

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The team aims to enable them to collect microplastics in deeper water and provide information to analyse marine pollution in real time, said Wang Yuyan, one of the researchers who developed the robot.

“We developed such a lightweight miniaturized robot. It can be used in many ways, for example in biomedical or hazardous operations, such a small robot that can be localised to a part of your body to help you eliminate some disease.”

The black robot fish is irradiated by a light, helping it to flap its fins and wiggle its body. Scientists can control the fish using the light to avoid it crashing into other fish or ships.