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3D robot fish designed by student sucks microplastics from waterways

3d robot fish ‘gillbert’ loves sucking plastics


Student Eleanor Mackintosh designed a 3D robot fish she named ‘Gillbert’ that vacuums microplastics from waterways that can be used for sampling and recyling or simply to minimize plastic pollution in the water bodies. When robotics researchers from the University of Surrey announced it would have a public competition, the team opened its submission stream to anyone who had an idea for a bio-inspired robot and promised that the winning entry would be turned into a working prototype.


Mackintosh threw her hat into the ring and chipped in her idea of devising a robot fish that could help reduce the plastic waste polluting the waterways. The robotics panelists and judges were sold with her idea, picked it up for a 3D-printed prototype, and came up with a 3D robot fish about the size of a salmon. The fish sucker features a set of gills that filters the water and keeps the microplastics inside its container as it swims. The team believes that the extracted microplastics can be recycled at the discretion of the user, one step toward micro-cleaning the water bodies.

3D robot fish
images courtesy of Dr. Robert Siddall and the researchers



Anyone can make their own ‘Gillbert’


Good news for 3D junkies: its design is open source and free to download on the contest website, and anyone with a 3D printer can create their own microplastic-sucking fish. A close-up look at the fish can give the users a peek through the fine mesh hiding within the series of the 3D robot fish’s gills. This fine mesh sieves out two-millimeter particles and keeps them within its body as long as it is in the water. Dr. Robert Siddall, Lecturer at the University of Surrey and the contest’s creator, comments that improvements should still be made, like making ‘Gillbert’ swim faster by powering it up in the tail and optimizing its fins.


So far, he and the team are happy with the first result. In the future, the researchers aim to make the 3D robot fish smart by turning it into a remote-controlled device that could also run on its own. Perhaps the team would install sensors to turn ‘Gillbert’ into an independent microplastic-sucking fish. What were the chances though that the team would also create a bigger plastic-sucking fish? Imagine if there was a shark-sized robot fish that sucked loads of plastic. Now that is an ocean water cleaner.

3D robot fish
‘Gillbert’ also glows in the dark



Researchers aim to develop pollution-fighting robots


Dr. Siddall shares that the vast majority of plastic dumped in the waterways might end up anywhere. With the entrance of Mackintosh’s 3D robot fish, he and the team hope that it becomes the first step toward helping researchers in finding micro and individual solutions to plastic pollution. Other entries that the team received for its 2022 Natural Robotics Contest include forest-protecting bear robots, crab-inspired space rovers, and a robotic sea urchin. Rest assured, Dr. Siddall and the researchers at the University of Surrey have considered adding them to the institution’s growing pollution-fighting robots. Dr. Siddall has also posted the open-source file of ‘Gillbert’ online.

3D robot fish
‘Gillbert’ vacuums microplastics from waterways

3D robot fish
the gills hide a fine mesh that filters the microplastics


3D robot fish ‘Gillbert’

3D robot fish
testing Gillbert with its filtering capacities

3D robot fish
Gillbert in water

3D robot fish
Gillbert trying to find microplastics to suck in


3D robot fish ‘Gillbert’


project info:


name: Gillbert

designer: Eleonor Mackintosh

institution: University of Surrey

contest researchers: Robert Siddall, Raphael Zufferey, Sophie Armanini, Ketao Zhang, Sina Sareh, Elisavetha Sergeev

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