In this work, we explore the feasibility of regulating the collective behavior of zebrafish with a free-swimming robotic fish. The visual cues elicited by the robot are inspired by salient features of attraction in zebrafish and include enhanced coloration, aspect ratio of a fertile female, and carangiform/subcarangiform locomotion. The robot is autonomously controlled with an online multi-target tracking system and swims in circular trajectories in the presence of groups of zebrafish. We investigate the collective response of zebrafish to changes in robot speed, achieved by varying its tail-beat frequency.
Our results show that the speed of the robot is a determinant of group cohesion, quantified through zebrafish nearest-neighbor distance, which increases with the speed of the robot until it reaches . We also find that the presence of the robot causes a significant decrease in the group speed, which is not accompanied by an increase in the freezing response of the subjects. Findings of this study are expected to inform the design of experimental protocols that leverage the use of robots to study the zebrafish animal model.