Robot Designers Get In The Swim
Aqua, an underwater robot designed by Canadian researchers at McGill University, is equipped with six individually controlled rotating flippers that enable the machine to swim, dive, perambulate, and sit on the bottom of the sea floor.
The robot is controlled by a laptop connected to a fiber-optic cable, and boasts three analog cameras for recording visual data.
Gregory Dudek, who heads the Mobile Robotics Lab at McGill’s Center for Intelligent Machines, notes that Aqua’s flipper propulsion makes the robot less likely to disturb local marine life, whereas robots that use jets or propellers are more likely to disrupt the ecosystem because they must struggle with the current and stabilize themselves.
Dudek adds that Aqua expends less power than jet-driven robots thanks to its flipper-walking ability. The robot can also hold itself steady in shallow waters using its flippers.
Applications Dudek sees for Aqua include coral reef monitoring, carrying illumination and tools for divers, examining telecommunications cables and water pipes, and checking the undersides of ships for contraband.
Scientists at McGill, Dalhousie, and York universities plan to augment Aqua with position-estimation software that would enable the robot to recall and return to familiar places, and an acoustic-localization system that would help operators locate the machine in a noisy environment.
Aqua is a descendant of RHex, a six-legged walking robot modeled after a cockroach that was a joint project between Canadian and American universities sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the Wired News (03/12/04); Mandel, Charles.