Our latest crop of nautical robots are a talented lot. They include a new and growing category of recreational, as well as professional, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). There's even an open-source version: build your own ROV from scratch or from a kit. Other robots designed to operate on or in water look like or emulate the movements of fish, turtles, or octopus. Some are designed to interact with living creatures or other robots.
Many typical nautical robots are underwater unmanned vehicles (UUVs), or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Robots made to work in water are usually designed to be either remote-controlled or autonomous, and some can even switch from one mode to another. Some models can do a number of different types of tasks, depending on their payloads. One is a robotic boat. Another was designed for only one purpose: locating and eliminating jellyfish, which have become a dangerous and expensive pest in offshore waters around Korea.
Click on the Coralbot below to start the slideshow.
The Coralbot project underway at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland aims at designing an underwater robot that can rebuild the world's damaged coral reefs. Left on their own, coral reef regrowth and regeneration is a very slow process, partly because many pieces get scattered far apart. A swarm of Coralbots will find and collect pieces of living coral and bring them back together to speed regrowth efforts. This help is especially needed right after hurricanes or destructive fishing practices like bottom-trawling. Humans have done this in the past, but this takes time and there's a lot of acreage to cover. Marine biologists, computer scientists, and robotics engineers at the University's Ocean Systems Laboratory are now working on the Nessie 4 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), their latest prototype, which has passed some field tests in open water. (Source: Heriot-Watt University)
I thought it was interesting that I didn't find a lot of new robots based on biomimetics, like fish, jellyfish, octopus or turtles. But there's been a lot of activity in ROVs, especially personal, low-end designs. I think the most unique one is the Korean jellyfish killer.
I think it's interesting to note that the jellyfish killers communicate with each other over Zigbee. I'm not sure what the jellyfish's mortal enemy is in nature, but I'm pretty sure that it doesn't know the Zigbee protocol.
I agree, I don't think jellyfish speak ZigBee, Chuck. Their natural predators according to Wikipedia are other jellyfish, as well as "tuna, shark, swordfish, sea turtles, and at least one species of Pacific salmon." Salmon? Weird.
Ann, I think that I came across an obscure and not very detailed reference to that jellyfish killer a while back, but never heard any more about it. That would indeed be an interesting thing to read about, especially how it senses that it has found a jellyfish. Those are probably one of the few creatures that nobody would ever choose to defend, at least I would not offer any complaint about a machine that ate those nasty pests.
If you have a pool in your backyard you could be using a robotic pool cleaner to keep it neat and tidy - a sort of underwater Roomba. They operate autonomously, usually dragging a power cable behind them, and despite appearing simple, they run sophisticated software to keep them out of trouble and help them get around.
William, I had a moment's hesitation when I was reading about the robot grinding up jellyfish--aside from the "eew" factor, there was the "yikes it's killing an animal" factor. But I think you're right--they've been around for something like 700 million years, so they're a very successful life form since their enemies don't seem to be doing a very good job of wiping them out.
Biomimicry has already found its way into the development of robots and new materials, with researchers studying animals and nature to come up with new innovations. Now thanks to researchers in Boston, biomimicry could even inform the future of electrical networks for next-generation displays.
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