By: April Carson
A robot in Stanford, California has been able to dive down and explore shipwrecks and sunken planes in a way that humans can't. The robot, known as OceanOneK, allows its operators to imagine they're underwater explorers, just like their human counterparts.
From the front, OceanOneK resembles a human diver with three-dimensional eyes and arms and hands that can see in 3D, capturing the underwater world in full color. Computers are located at the back of the robot and eight multidirectional thrusters provide precise movement to locations of threatened sunken vessels.
The haptic (touch-based) feedback system within OceanOneK gives the operator at the ocean's surface a sensation of water resistance and artifacts' contours when he or she uses controls to direct it.
The immersive sense of realism available at OceanOneK is enough to make people feel like they're diving down to the depths – without the risks or intense underwater pressure that a real diver would face.
In September, a team of researchers from Stanford University and its roboticists, Oussama Khatib and his students, teamed up with deep-sea archaeologists to begin deploying the device. The research team just completed another underwater excursion in July.
OceanOneK has already visited the submerged Beechcraft Baron F-GDPV aircraft, an Italian steamship Le Francesco Crispi from the Second World War, a Roman ship off Corsica from the second century A.D., and a P-38 Lightning aircraft in World War II.
The Crispi is located about 1,640 feet (500 meters) beneath the Mediterranean Sea's surface. "You're really approaching this incredible structure, and something amazing happens when you touch it: you genuinely feel it," Khatib said, speaking at Stanford's School of Engineering and Robotics Lab director.
The goal of OceanOneK and its predecessor, OceanOne, was to create a robot that could survive being submerged in water at various pressures while also proving to be durable. Khatib explained the difficulty of achieving this with OceanOneK and its precursor, OceanOne.
In 2016, AquaMiner made its debut, diving on King Louis XIV's sinking flagship La Lune, which is 328 feet (100 meters) beneath the Mediterranean 20 miles (32 kilometers) off southern France. The 1664 wreck was left alone by people.
Khatib felt the sensations in his hands when OceanOne touched the vase before placing it in a recovery basket, and the robot recovered a vase about the size of a grapefruit.
The goal for OceanOne originated from a desire to explore coral reefs in the Red Sea beyond the usual diving depth. The Stanford group wanted to build something that was as close to a human diver as feasible, combining artificial intelligence, sophisticated robotics, and tactile feedback.
The biggest difference is the existence of a brain. Rather than being controlled by sensors and algorithms, this robot's brain can register how carefully it must handle an item without breaking it — such as seashells or maritime artifacts. The bot may be operated, but it has hardware and software installed to allow it to operate independently and avoid collisions.
Researchers had a new objective in mind: 1 kilometer (0.62 miles), hence the name of OceanOneK, which was developed to go as deep as 656 feet (200 meters).
The robot's body was altered with special foam that contains glass microspheres to improve buoyancy and combat the pressures of 1,000 meters, which is roughly 100 times greater than what humans experience at sea level.
With this design, the University of Tokyo researchers modified the robot's arms with an oil and spring mechanism that prevents compression as it goes lower in the water. OceanOneK also acquired two new sorts of hands and enhanced arm, head, and neck movement.
The technology needs to scale because it can't operate in a conventional way. "It has challenges that no other system I've ever worked on has," said Wesley Guo, a Stanford School of Engineering doctoral student. "To make those solutions work, you'll need a lot of out-of-the-box thinking."
The team tested out the robot in the university's swimming pool and conducted experiments such as holding a video camera on a arm and collecting things. The ultimate test for OceanOneK came next.
Beginning in 2021, OceanOneK scuba divers plunged to these depths: 406 feet (124 meters) to the submarine, 1,095 feet (334 meters) to the Roman ship ruins, and eventually 0.5 miles (852 meters) to demonstrate that it had the capacity of diving to nearly 1 kilometer. There were difficulties, though.
"We had to design a new control system for the robot because at those depths, the water pressure is so high that it's hard for scuba divers to move their arms," says Dabiri. "So we had to come up with a way for the robot to receive commands from the surface."
In the middle of a storm, one of the robots' disabled arms had to be mended on the deck of their boat late at night by Guo and another Stanford doctoral student, Adrian Piedra.
"To me, the robot is eight years in the making," Piedra added. "You have to comprehend how every single component of this robot works — what could go wrong and things always go wrong. It's like a puzzle, therefore being able to delve deep into the ocean and see some wrecks that would have never been seen up close is really thrilling."
Team members discovered that the robot couldn't climb when they stopped for a thruster check during OceanOneK's deep dive in February. The communications and power line had collapsed, forcing the line to pile on top of the robot.
"This is an incredible adventure," said Christian Khatib, a computer science professor. "The first time that a robot has been able to go this far, engage with the environment, and allow the human operator to feel what's going on."
Since the February test dive, the team has been working on making OceanOne more stable and giving it more dexterous hands. The goal is to have a fully autonomous robot that can explore underwater environments for long periods of time without a human operator.
"Imagine if we could have robots that could go deep into the ocean and help us study shipwrecks or look for hydrothermal vents," Khatib said. "This is just the beginning."
The team returned to the Roman ship and Crispi in July. While the former has vanished, its goods are still spread across the sea floor, according on Khatib. OceanOneK collected ancient vases and oil lamps from the site of the Roman ship, which still retain their maker's name.
The robot lowered a boom camera into the Crispi's fractured hull to take pictures of corals and rust formations as bacteria consumed the ship's iron, while a thermal imaging camera revealed the presence of invasive species.
"We travel all the way to France for the expedition, and there, surrounded by a considerably larger team from a wide range of disciplines, you discover that the part of this robot you've been working on at Stanford is actually a component in something much bigger," Piedra said.
"It was very gratifying to see the system come together and do everything that it was supposed to do."
The next step for the team is to develop a new generation of robots that can swim through water column and map the seafloor in 3D.
Currently, most underwater robots rely on Global Positioning System (GPS) signals to navigate, which don't work well underwater.
The project grew out of a concept in 2014, and it has a long-term vision of exploring lost underwater cities, coral reefs, and deep wrecks. OceanOneK's inventions also pave the way for more secure underwater engineering projects such as boat repairs, piers, and pipelines.
Another goal will be to explore a sunken steamboat on the border of Peru and Bolivia's Lake Titicaca. Khatib, though, and his crew have even grander aspirations for the endeavor: space.
"The European Space Agency has expressed an interest in the robot," Khatib said. A haptic device on the International Space Station would allow astronauts to interact with the robot. "They can interact with the robot deep in the water, and this would be fantastic because it would imitate doing this on a different planet or moon."
Other benefits to using an underwater humanoid diving robot are that it is much less expensive than traditional methods, and it does not put divers at risk.
"It's also very Green," Khatib said. "You don't have to use a lot of fuel to get there, and you're not polluting the water."
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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