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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The implementation of a new diesel fuel standard in the US has considerably improved the environmental performance of diesel vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that the new ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel has combined with other improved technologies to reduce diesel's particulate matter (PM) emissions by 99%.
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