MIT researchers have started to test a new underwater robot that can hover in place like a helicopter. The two-meter-long Odyssey IV will be able to move autonomously up to depths of 6,000 meters at a speed of 2.5 meters per second. But unlike other underwater robots, it will be able to stop at a specific location. It could be used by oil companies to inspect the footings of offshore oil platforms. It also could be used by marine archaeologists or oceanographers for specific missions -- depending on its price. But read more...
You can see above a photo of the Odyssey IV during its first tests. During these initial tests, the autonomous robot was controlled by standard wireless systems. Here is a link to a larger version of this picture which belongs to a 17-photo Robot Sub set on Flickr taken by j-fi.
The development of this underwater robot has been led by Chryssostomos Chryssostomidis, the director of the MIT Sea Grant Program, which appears on the Web as a Wiki site. Another Wiki page describes the characteristics of the Odyssey IV. You'll find below an image showing a schematic side view of the Odyssey IV vehicle, built with Solid Works. (Credit: MIT Sea Grant Program, link to a larger version)
Let's look at the MIT news release mentioned above for more details. "The new Odyssey IV, which has just completed sea trials off Woods Hole, Mass., can move through the deep ocean, up to 6,000 meters down, stopping anywhere in the water column and constantly correcting for currents and obstacles. Navigating to its preprogrammed destination, it can hover in place, making detailed inspections of the footings of an offshore oil platform, or photographing the flora and fauna around an undersea vent."
And here is a Chryssostomidis quote. "Our old subs needed to swim, to go forward, in order to maintain maneuvering capability. People wanted to be able to work in the ocean and stop and hover to do a specific task. In the past, you could only fly over a scene, take a picture, then fly over again and take another picture. Now, I can stop over a scene that's of interest, and stay and make measurements. We'll be able to observe underwater scenes in much more detail."
Here is another excerpt from the MIT new release. "The new craft's unique capabilities go beyond just looking at objects. 'Like a giant helicopter, this can pick up cargo underwater,' Chryssostomidis says. 'Now, we can visit an oil well, pick up a sample and bring it back to shore.' With the addition of a mechanical arm, the vessel will be able to do manipulations such as twisting a valve open or closed. Not only can the craft hover, it can move quickly, up to two meters per second going straight ahead. Both its speed and its ability to stop in place are achieved through the combined action of fins and thrusters on each side, and at the bow and stern of the two-meter-long craft."
You'll find many more details by reading Untethered in the Deep, an article from Greg Mone, published by MIT's Technology Review in its January/February 2008 issue.
Here is a -- quite long -- quote from this article. "Odyssey IV can really move--tests suggest it should be able to cruise underwater at about 2.5 meters per second--but just as important, it can stop. Four thrusters -- two on either side, plus one each mounted on the bow and stern--enable the robot to turn in all directions, and to stay put when necessary. The ability to hover could prove important for the marine-archaeology expeditions Chryssostomidis loves, since the vehicle could stay in place and study interesting objects instead of simply grabbing a sonar reading as it cruised past. It could also benefit energy companies that are currently assessing the feasibility of drilling wells far out in the Gulf of Mexico, beneath thousands of feet of water. Maintaining such wells will be tricky. Stop-and-go AUVs like Odyssey IV could cruise over a large area, perform close-up inspections, and monitor the wells for damage. In fact, from the AUV's perspective such monitoring would be easier than exploring the vast ocean floor, because the wells themselves would provide reference points for the vessel's high-powered Doppler velocity log."
Sources: David Chandler, MIT News Office, September 25, 2008; and various websites
You'll find related stories by following the links below.