A large number of robots have been designed to operate in or near water, whether fresh water or the salty seas. Military, homeland security, and naval operations are some of the more obvious application areas. For example, Bluefin Robotics' autonomous underwater vehicles and the Hawkes Remotes remotely-operated vehicles are designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and detecting unexploded ordnance. Like many of their unmanned ground vehicle counterparts, they can go where humans can't.
These, and other mostly autonomous robots are also aimed at scientific exploration and data gathering, as well as maintenance of ships, oil and gas pipelines, telecommunications cables, or alternative offshore energy installations. Some target water or environmental health monitoring.
Click the image below to see 13 examples of these sea-worthy automatons.
Festo's AquaPenguin is one of many projects the company has pursued under its Bionic Learning Network. The network's purpose is to use the energy-efficient principles already found in nature and adapt them to automation technology. The AquaPenguin is an autonomous underwater vehicle with penguin-inspired hydrodynamic body contours. Equipped with a 3D sonar system, like that of dolphins, it can communicate with its surroundings and other AquaPenguins, independently orient itself, and navigate. Its torso, head, and tail sections can move in all directions for maneuvering in cramped areas, letting it turn on a dime and swim backwards. (Source: Festo)
I agree, it's amazing what's going on in robot R&D and also production, in terms of both breadth and depth. A lot of cross-pollination will be expanded because of open-source ROS, also. I think the development is spiking for several interrelated reasons. The military and industrial robot makers have been working on robotics independently for some time. Cross-pollination has occurred more with more university department efforts, especially as those become funded by government and (primarily) military budgets. But universities have their own cross-pollination effects, both within and between/among them. So now they're also working on medical robots and other types. Meanwhile, independent robot manufacturers are pursuing specialized paths (service 'bots for instance), sometimes with military and/industrial partners. Then there are also student competitions that have gotten to be a big deal. I think all of these are coming together.
Thanks Ann. When it comes to the R&D on robotics in the military and universities, is there a mechanism to share the technology developments with industry? I would guess some of the R&D from the military is classified. But is there also some technology transfer to industry?
Rob, I think that's a question that only the military can answer, if they would, or their subcontractors. But I doubt if either would. I'd guess that such transfer may occur, as it does with any other military subcontractor, to the robot companies developing machines with military funds, such as Boston Dynamics. From my previous experience covering military technology, there's no global mechanism per se: it occurs on a case by case basis.
Ann, it would be wonderful to see the military engage in formal tech transfer programs like the national labs do. The labs have programs to send their R&D out to start-ups -- usually start-ups runs by former lab researchers. It's a great idea to make the taxpayer-financed research available to entrepreneurs. Robotics looks like a perfect candidate for tech transfer.
Back in tec school many years ago robotics was really growing but all of a sudden it seem like there wasn't much interest. I'm glad to read and see all the new projects. I really like the jelly fish. I would be most interested in seeing an underwater demo, especially the one like Hawkes Remotes U-Series ROV.
I agree, Ann. The penguin and jellyfish robots are so impressive in that they blend in with the environment and obviously incorporate a lot of biomimicky thinking in their design. Those were the ones that blew me away in this slide show. Not sure how functional they are in terms of their role, but from a design standpoint, a home run in my book.
Beth. when I looked at the details--as much as Festo will give--of their jellyfish and penguin robots I was stunned at the quality of the design. Perhaps I shouldn't have been: Festo is known for quality and clearly good design is required for underwater robots, especially autonomous ones. Their utility, at least for surveillance-type apps, seems pretty clear.
Chuck, I agree--they look so vulnerable, yet are surprisingly rugged. In fact, Liquid Robotics has just formed a separate joint venture company with Schlumberger for oil & gas exploration and production services: http://liquidr.com/files/2012/06/Schlumberger_LiquidRobotics_Joint_Venture.pdf
Further down the scale are the awimming pool cleaning robots which sweep and vacuum the bottom of your swimming pool (if you're lucky enough to have one...). Designing a robot that can work underwater is not trivial - getting rid of excess heat is a problem, you can't expose a heatsink to the water because it will suffer galvanic corrosion. Keeping water out is another problem, when you have moving or rotating parts passing through a watertight enclosure.
Some of our culture's most enduring robots appeared in the 80s. The Aliens series produced another evil android, and we saw light robot fare in the form of Short Circuit. Two of the great robots of all time also showed up: The Terminator and RoboCop.
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