Weakly electric fishes (Gymnotid and Mormyrid) use an electric field to communicate efficiently (termed electrocommunication) in the turbid waters of confined spaces where other communication modalities fail. Inspired by this biological phenomenon, we design an artificial electrocommunication system for small underwater robots and explore the capabilities of such an underwater robotic communication system. An analytical model for electrocommunication is derived to predict the effect of the key parameters such as electrode distance and emitter current of the system on the communication performance. According to this model, a low-dissipation, and small-sized electrocommunication system is proposed and integrated into a small robotic fish. We characterize the communication performance of the robot in still water, flowing water, water with obstacles and natural water conditions. The results show that underwater robots are able to communicate electrically at a speed of around 1 k baud within about 3 m with a low power consumption (less than 1 W). In addition, we demonstrate that two leader-follower robots successfully achieve motion synchronization through electrocommunication in the three-dimensional underwater space, indicating that this bio-inspired electrocommunication system is a promising setup for the interaction of small underwater robots.
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