A lot of people still can’t fathom how we know more about outer space than we do our oceans. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering only five percent of the Earth’s ocean floors have been explored by humans or human-operated devices. There’s a chance that could soon change with the development of a new autonomous “curious” underwater robot. These bots are programmed to adapt to their surroundings upon being deployed, while searching for underwater organisms and monitoring the conditions of their surrounding environment. Curious robots also watch for any anomalies or anything unordinary they may come across as well.
Curious robots come in different shapes, sizes, and use a variety of sensors and cameras to dictate their movements and actions. The gadgets these robots are equipped with enable them to measure different aspects of their surroundings like depth, temperature, salinity, and several other kinds of readings. Their cameras constantly send compressed, low-resolution images to their human operators, who can redirect a curious robot to investigate anything unordinary they may come across more thoroughly.
Autonomous robotic technology has only been around for 15 years, and the first software of its kind was literally built from scratch. Scientists have come a long way since then, especially with underwater bots. Most underwater robotics commonly used by oceanographers and marine biologists are only programmed to follow a specific route and monitor or search for a specific set of features. As a result, mainstream underwater robot models don’t acknowledge any anomalies they may come across, or alterations to their surroundings like temperature and terrain changes.
Curious robots must be “taught” to detect specific types of fish, coral, plant life, sediment, etc., all while ably collecting data and differentiating undersea scenes unsupervised. They’re taught to interact with different species of fish and other beings, since certain underwater organisms are frightened or attracted to these robots. This could lead to inaccurate data on how abundant certain species of fish and other marine life may or may not be in a given area. Curious robots are also being primed to access underwater structures or domains otherwise inaccessible or too hazardous for humans to explore like shipwrecks or missions in the Arctic. One such example of this is how researchers are looking to pair curious robots with drones in ongoing efforts to photograph the top and bottoms of icebergs floating in the ocean.
Although the field of autonomous underwater robotics is relatively new, curious robots have already led to some interesting findings. In 2015, a research expedition took place off the coast of Panama to study organisms inhabiting an undersea mountain chain called the Hannibal Seamount. The curious robots were programmed to take photos, videos, and collect specimens over a span of three weeks. On its final dive, the curious robot sent photos to the human operators containing blurry red anomalies that the team redirected the curious robot to investigate further. They discovered these red blobs in the photographs to be pelagic red crabs that were native to Southern California. It was extremely unusual for the scientists to find these crabs so far from their natural habitat and clustered in large numbers for that matter, which was a discovery the research team solely attributes to the curious robot.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)