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Undersea Robots

Undersea operations are a great application for robotics to replace humans. Working underwater is both dangerous and difficult for humans. Schilling Robotics makes the system shown at left. This system combines a remote operated vehicle with thrusters for maneuvering and two robot arms for manipulating. Note that one of the arms is almost a grappler. It can grab something rigid, such as the base of an oil rig, to steady the vehicle while the other arm performs such tasks as welding and valve maintenance.

The robot at right is a biomimetic (mimicking biology) lobster developed by the Northeastern University Marine Science Center. Biomimetic robots may employ myomorphic actuators, which mimic muscle action; neuromorphic sensors, which, like animal sensors, represent sensory modalities such as light, pressure, and motion in a labeled-line code; biomimetic controllers, based on the relatively simple control systems of invertebrate animals; and autonomous behaviors that are based on the actual animal's behavior. If a robot like this goes walking around on the ocean floor, I wonder if a big fish will eat it?

The Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney developed the robot shown at left as a prototype for autonomous underwater robots that may one day explore and monitor the Great Barrier Reef. At present this robot (called Oberon) must remain tethered to a ship on the surface, but its inventors predict that within a decade it would be possible for robots to be lowered to the ocean floor and left to get on with mapping the terrain on their own. Oberon has two scanning sonars and a depth sensor as well as a color camera. It does not need any independent information, such as from global positioning system satellites, to work out where it is.

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