Robots can be used for hazardous tasks and now they can be used for underwater surveillance. A prototype ‘smart’ maneuvering robot has been developed by a team of scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) for oceanic surveys, inspections of pipe and cable, ship hull or a propeller’s shaft.
The robotic sea turtle which could move underwater and dive to deeper depths vertically, like a real turtle, by using its front and hind limbs gait movements, said Prof. S.K Panda of NUS, who is currently giving it the final touches.
The team hopes to produce a swarm of autonomous tiny robotic sea turtles and fishes to perform hazardous missions such as detecting nuclear wastes underwater or other tasks too dangerous for humans, researchers said.
“Our turtle robot does not use a ballast system which is commonly used in underwater robots for diving or sinking functions,” said Panda from the electrical and computer engineering department of NUS.
Without this ballast system, it is much smaller and can carry out bigger payloads so that it can perform more complicated tasks such as surveillance, water quality monitoring or energy harvesting for long endurance.
Another interesting feature of the turtle robot is that it is self-charging, and need not return to base station everytime it runs out of battery and it is agile and capable of taking turns at sharp corners with small radius, without losing speed.
Another researcher Abhra Roy Chowdhury said the team has designed and developed four other underwater prototypes – a spherical robot that mimics a puffer fish in structure but uses a jet propulsion technique similar to jelly fishes and squids, and three robotic fishes of different morphologies.
These robots are developed to be scalable, modular and avoid detection. “If need be, we can actually combine all their merits in a single robot,” Chowdhury added.
Another Research Engineer Bhuneshwar Prasad said these robots could take photos with a camera and process selected images before sending them to a remote computer, hence shortening the process and minimising energy consumption.
The team plans to develop central pattern generators—biological neural networks that when activated produce rhythmic motor patterns and motion in the absence of inputs that carry specific timing information. This will allow the robotic fish to respond to its surroundings and make crucial decisions in order to complete a mission.
The researchers do not see their robotic creatures as replacements for the more sophisticated Remotely Operated Vehicles—tethered robot submarines that are controlled by pilots on a mother ship. Rather, they view them as complementary intelligent vehicles with specific functionalities performing at par with other vehicles on a mission.