Nav: Home

Can we imitate organisms' abilities to decode water patterns for new technologies?

April 05, 2018

The shape of water. Can it tell us about what drives romance? Among fish, it might. Eva Kanso, a professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering studies fluid flows and almost like a forensic expert, Kanso, along with her team, is studying how aquatic signals are transported through the water.

When it comes to mating, tiny crustaceans called copepods are one of the most abundant multi-cellular organisms, says Kanso, the Zohrab Kaprielian Fellow in Engineering.

To locate their mate, male copepods search for and follow the hydrodynamic and chemical trail of the female. Scientists like Kanso believe aquatic organisms transmit and read information through the movements they make and the wakes they leave behind in the water. Harbor seals, for example, have been shown to track the wake of a moving object, even when the seal is blindfolded and initially acoustically-masked. Researchers believe the flow of water encodes a pattern of information--a type of language by which an organism can call another to mate, use to avoid predators or even in the case of salmon, begin upstream migration.

Just as a seagull's footprint in the sand is different than a human's, every moving body in the water generates a different pattern or wake based on certain factors such as the size of the body that created it or the speed at which it is moving (a fast-swimming and scared animal might generate a distinct wake by the more frequent and faster beat of its tail). Kanso would like to understand how these water flow patterns are perceived at a local level, by an organism or a bio-inspired vehicle, and decode them to ascertain what's happening in the water at a larger scale.

Using a computational physics model, Kanso, and PhD students Brendan Colvert and Mohamad Alsalman, generated various fluid flow patterns, then using machine learning, trained an algorithm to correctly identify these fluid patterns, achieving 99 percent accuracy. By doing this, the researchers developed an algorithm to, in a sense, mimic an aquatic sensory intelligence with regards to the patterns created in water. It is one of the first instances in which machine learning was applied to characterizing patterns in fluid flows.

Why does it matter? Consider how technologies have evolved based on the way a bat generates awareness of an environment. Just as sonar waves are used by submarines to actively probe their environment, there could be navigational uses for knowledge of water patterns under the sea. Without GPS, underwater vehicles equipped with sensors that are trained with such algorithms could, in principle, detect vehicles of a particular size and speed, known to generate certain flow patterns. By the same token, understanding the patterns that make a given wake detectable could help design underwater vehicles that leave behind inconspicuous wakes.

Kanso and her team are now testing these algorithms on real-life data and extending their scope to spatially-distributed networks of sensors that have the potential to create more robust and accurate maps of the flow patterns.
-end-
Kanso's research conducted with Brendan Colvert and Mohamad Alsalman, is supported by the Department of Defense (Office of Naval Research, Army Research Office, and NDSEG program) and documented in "Classifying vortex wakes using neural networks." The article was recently published in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

University of Southern California

Related Engineering Articles:

Engineering a new cancer detection tool
E. coli may have potentially harmful effects but scientists in Australia have discovered this bacterium produces a toxin which binds to an unusual sugar that is part of carbohydrate structures present on cells not usually produced by healthy cells.
Engineering heart valves for the many
The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the University of Zurich announced today a cross-institutional team effort to generate a functional heart valve replacement with the capacity for repair, regeneration, and growth.
Geosciences-inspired engineering
The Mackenzie Dike Swarm and the roughly 120 other known giant dike swarms located across the planet may also provide useful information about efficient extraction of oil and natural gas in today's modern world.
Engineering success
Academically strong, low-income would-be engineers get the boost they need to complete their undergraduate degrees.
HKU Engineering Professor Ron Hui named a Fellow by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering
Professor Ron Hui, Chair Professor of Power Electronics and Philip Wong Wilson Wong Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Hong Kong, has been named a Fellow by the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK, one of the most prestigious national academies.
Engineering a better biofuel
The often-maligned E. coli bacteria has powerhouse potential: in the lab, it has the ability to crank out fuels, pharmaceuticals and other useful products at a rapid rate.
Pascali honored for contributions to engineering education
Raresh Pascali, instructional associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering Technology Program at the University of Houston, has been named the 2016 recipient of the Ross Kastor Educator Award.
Scaling up tissue engineering
A team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard John A.
Engineering material magic
University of Utah engineers have discovered a new kind of 2-D semiconducting material for electronics that opens the door for much speedier computers and smartphones that also consume a lot less power.
Engineering academic elected a Fellow of the IEEE
A University of Bristol academic has been elected a Fellow of the world's largest and most prestigious professional association for the advancement of technology.

Related Engineering Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Don't Fear Math
Why do many of us hate, even fear math? Why are we convinced we're bad at it? This hour, TED speakers explore the myths we tell ourselves and how changing our approach can unlock the beauty of math. Guests include budgeting specialist Phylecia Jones, mathematician and educator Dan Finkel, math teacher Eddie Woo, educator Masha Gershman, and radio personality and eternal math nerd Adam Spencer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#518 With Genetic Knowledge Comes the Need for Counselling
This week we delve into genetic testing - for yourself and your future children. We speak with Jane Tiller, lawyer and genetic counsellor, about genetic tests that are available to the public, and what to do with the results of these tests. And we talk with Noam Shomron, associate professor at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, about technological advancements his lab has made in the genetic testing of fetuses.