The ‘Curious’ Robots Searching For The Ocean’s Secrets
People have been exploring the Earth since ancient times—traversing deserts, climbing mountains, and trekking through forests. But there is one ecological realm that hasn’t yet been well explored: the oceans. To date, just 5 percent of Earth’s oceans have been seen by human eyes or by human-controlled robots.
(From The Atlantic / By Erica Cirino)– That’s quickly changing thanks to advancements in robotic technologies. In particular, a new class of self-controlled robots that continually adapt to their surroundings is opening the door to undersea discovery. These autonomous, “curious” machines can efficiently search for specific undersea features such as marine organisms and landscapes, but they are also programmed to keep an eye out for other interesting things that may unexpectedly pop up.
Curious robots—which can be virtually any size or shape—use sensors and cameras to guide their movements. The sensors take sonar, depth, temperature, salinity, and other readings, while the cameras constantly send pictures of what they’re seeing in compressed, low-resolution form to human operators. If an image shows something different than the feature a robot was programmed to explore, the operator can give the robot the okay to go over and check out in greater detail.
The field of autonomous underwater robots is relatively young, but the curious-robots exploration method has already lead to some pretty interesting discoveries, says Hanumant Singh, an ocean physicist and engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. In 2015, he and a team of researchers went on an expedition to study creatures living on Hannibal Seamount, an undersea mountain chain off Panama’s coast. They sent a curious robot down to the seabed from their “manned submersible”—a modern version of the classic Jacques Cousteau yellow submarine—to take photos and videos and collect living organisms on several dives over the course of 21 days.
On the expedition’s final dive, the robot detected an anomaly on the seafloor, and sent back several low-resolution photos of what looked like red fuzz in a very low oxygen zone. “The robot’s operators thought what was in the image might be interesting, so they sent it over to the feature to take more photos,” says Singh. “Thanks to the curious robot, we were able to tell that these were crabs—a whole swarming herd of them.”
Read the full article here: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/02/under-the-sea-3-p-o/517425/?utm_source=atlfb