The surface of the world is a fairly well known place, especially with stunning satellite pictures showing us every continent and island. However, in our seas and oceans lies a vast unexplored territory. Several organizations are funding grants to develop underwater robots based on marine life, from eels to jelly fish. With applications ranging from defusing mines to topographical survey, robots have a lot of ground to cover.
by Janet McConnaughey, the Associated Press
“We, as engineers, haven’t created anything that swims nearly as well as a very basic fish,” said Drexel University’s James Tangorra, who is working on a robotic bluegill. Partners at Harvard and the University of Georgia are studying the actual fish; he uses their findings to engineer imitations. “There are great things we can learn from fish … The way they propel themselves; the way in which they sense water.”
Ultimately, the Navy wants “the next generation of robotics that would operate in that very Navy-unique underwater domain,” said Jim Fallin, a spokesman for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, which is doing separate work in San Diego. One aspect is finding long-lived power sources to let drones loiter a long time to collect information, he said.
Possible uses include spying, mapping, and mine detection and removal.
The Navy is not the only agency paying for such research. In 2007, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency offered small business innovation research money for an underwater robot that could navigate rivers, inlets, harbors and coastal waters to check for general traffic, obstacles, things on and under the bottom, and “specific vessels of interest.”
The ONR studies are more basic. The grants aren’t aimed as much at creating drones as at understanding how things move forward underwater, Brizzolara said.
The Navy uses torpedo-shaped drones and tethered vehicles to detect mines and map the ocean floor. But propellers and jets can be easily tracked on radar and sonar. Robots modeled after water creatures could be both more efficient and harder to detect, and could move through perilous waters without endangering people, researchers say.
Read the full article from the Associated Press here. What are some other applications you can think of for marine robots? What other sea creatures should engineers be looking to for inspiration?