Move over, Roomba. New advanced underwater robots have already been probing the depths of our oceans, lakes and rivers, but now they can return on their own to their cargo ports as the beloved aspiration system in the consumer’s home.
Underwater drones currently serve a variety of important purposes. Scientists use submersible drone equipment to collect data on the environment, investigate pH levels, assess water quality levels, search for chemicals after industrial spills, catalog marine life, or probe underwater structures for new changes. .
Underwater drones also help engineers with the construction and maintenance of offshore wind turbines, and police teams with their underwater search and rescue missions.
Marine robots also maneuver inside city waterways to collect trash thrown by tourists and residents. At least one non-profit organization is using this technology to collect plastic waste from the ocean.
A new marine technology similar to Roomba, the WasteShark RanMarine collects trash floating on the surface of the city’s waterways. But the need to return to a central operating position limits the effectiveness of the team.
All of these operations can be incredibly useful.
The problem is that sooner or later autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) must return to base to charge their batteries. This hurdle limits what AUVs can accomplish and increases the cost because humans are needed to help these robots when they run out.
Currently, when marine robots dive into water, they lose the ability to transmit and receive radio signals, including GPS data. Underwater drones must return to the surface before radio signals or GPS data can synchronize with their base. This also involves a human element (read: cost), when workers must retrieve the robots to start loading them and uploading the data obtained. This limits the amount of time AUVs can stay underwater to achieve their goals and the amount of data they can reasonably retrieve.
Now an aerospace engineer is leading the effort to make all of these efforts more efficient and profitable.
Scientists at Purdue University have unveiled a mobile docking station that can stay close to underwater drones to provide the charging port they need. The technology can help AUVs operate for much longer periods of time without human intervention and enable the tantalizing possibility of deploying drones in our oceans with the mission of cleaning up the trash there.
Nina Mahmoudian, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, was co-author of the new research article in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters showing that its mobile docking station can move on its own, following underwater drones to provide a recharge.
“The robots and docks could coordinate with each other so that they could reload and load their data, and then go back outside to continue exploring, without the need for human intervention,” says Mahmoudian.
A technology like this could well revolutionize the way underwater research and engineering efforts are carried out, significantly reducing costs and time spent on projects.
“It is designed to be platform independent, so it can be used with any AUV. Hardware and software work hand in hand, ”reports the team.
“This system can be used anywhere,” according to Mahmoudian. Which means, for those who may be dreaming big, mobile charging ports for autonomous drones that work on land, in the air, at sea or even in space.
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