Sensors Mag

An Underwater Robot Swarm

September 11, 2009 By: Melanie Martella, Sensors

E-mail Melanie Martella

I am a sucker for robots. Robotic fish, autonomous vehicles, rolling robots, slithering robots, cleaning robots, Mars-exploring robots—I think they're all amazing, especially when you consider the sheer variety of information they can collect during their travels. So when I read about GO Science's nifty underwater robots I perked right up.

An article, "'Ring-wing' robo-sub smart swarm lands £6m oil deal" in The Register describes (briefly) GO Science's RHyVAU underwater robotic glider. The device itself looks deceptively simple but it moves underwater like a dream: the article includes a link to a video of the robot zipping around underwater and otherwise going through its paces and it is a delight to watch. But the part that interested me even more than the elegant functionality of the robot was the fact that the company has also developed (or is developing, it's unclear to me what the exact status is, other than it's sufficiently concrete that an oil company is willing to shell out several million pounds for its use) an autonomous, acoustic-link swarming technology that allows multiple autonomous robots to act collectively.

To quote from the article, "According to [Kevin] Hamilton, the plan is to deploy a mighty swarm of up to 2,500 Ring Hydro Vessel Agent Under-liquid (RHyVAU) subdroids, which will navigate partially by compass/inertial means and partly using sonic signals emitted both from each other and from a surface reference unit using GPS satnav. The cunning swarm tech will let the highly manoeuvrable ring-wing droids swiftly drive themselves into a precisely aligned grid on the seabed, so deploying a net of well-located seabed sensors for a seismic survey. Data gathered, the ring-bot oilsniffers will recover themselves hands-off to the survey ship for swift and easy info collation."

Considering the efforts underway to understand the ocean and other bodies of water, and some of the complexities inherent in investigating them (the ocean is huge, ships are expensive, and amassing sufficient data to be useful is time-consuming, complicated, and anything but cheap), then a bunch of sensor-toting underwater robots, capable of acting in concert and going where larger, more cumbersome craft cannot go, could be of tremendous utility.

Editor's note: Sensors Weekly is taking a week off, but will return on Friday, September 25.

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