The robots – costing around $29,000 each – are being built by Professor Huosheng Hu and his robotics team at the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex.
The life-like creatures, which will mimic the undulating movement of real fish, will be equipped with tiny chemical sensors to find the source of potentially hazardous pollutants in the water, such as leaks from vessels in the port or underwater pipelines.
The fish will then transmit their data through Wi-Fi technology when they dock to charge their batteries, which last around eight hours.
Rory Doyle, senior research scientist at technology consultancy BMT Group, has described the project as a “world first”.
“In using robotic fish, we are building on a design created by hundreds of millions of years’ worth of evolution which is incredibly energy efficient. This efficiency is something we need to ensure that our pollution detection sensors can navigate in the underwater environment for hours on end,” he said.
“We will produce a system that allows the fish to search underwater, meaning that we will be able to analyse not only chemicals on the surface of the water, but also those that are dissolved in the water,” he added.
Doyle and Hu hope to release five of the bots into the water by the end of next year.