Technology

Apr 1, 2017

CURIOSITY CREATED THE ROBOT

So far we have only explored five percent of the Earth's oceans. This means, just to grip the real picture, that currently we know a lot more about the geography of the Moon than about the oceans of our own planet. 

What lies beneath the unexplored seas has been an object of speculation on sci fi and horror films and television series, sometimes a combination of both, but that's about to change.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), a private college founded on 1930, on Massachusetts, United States, has been developing a new type of underwater robot that, unlike the current ones, does not need to be remotely operated by a human. We're talking about "curious" autonomous robots, capable of adapting to the environment it explores.

These robots include cameras with live stream, sonars and depth, salinity and temperature sensors, which guide them into the bottom of the ocean. Their unique programming includes a factor of curiosity that makes them highlight any unusual characteristics that are not part of their exploratory mission. 

These robots started their field tests in 2015, although the technology for the creation of autonomous robots has been invented back in 2002. These extremely advanced machines are programed to collect the largest possible amount of data and to detect the characteristics of their surroundings, like the type of fish, crustaceous, corals and sediment it comes across, as well as any type of anomalies, since the programmers included an algorithm that renders it as "curious", hence its nickname. 

Before this innovation underwater robots had to be manoeuvred remotely by a human or strictly follow a pre-programmed task, something that the scientists, engineers and students of WHOI were able to surpass thanks to their continuous efforts to develop and test new theories and build new maritime instruments that allow us to gather vast amounts of data in de deep vast unknown oceans. 

WHOI works in all the oceans of the world studying the geologic activity on the depths of the Earth, as well as the flora and the fauna, the coastal erosion, water pollution and the effects of climate change, working with other institutions such as the National Foundation for Science.

So far WHOI has developed eight different robots, being that only one of those, Halvin, is a human tripulated submersive that was attributed to it by the U.S. Navy in 1964. The following series were baptized Remus (autonomous torpedo shaped robots), Sentry (capable of carrying more delicate sensors), Jason (still with remote control, also used to explore ship wreckage), Nereus (that can operate either autonomously or attached to another vessel), SeaBED (more suitable to gather detailed optic and sonar images), Gliders (also torpedo shaped, but less potent than Remus) and Argo (3,000 small sized units that gather data referring to the temperature and salinity of the water).

The creation of this type of robots caught the attention of the World Economic Forum, that considered it as an "industrial revolution", given the permanent need for raw materials and renewable food sources. Keeping in mind that 71 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water, how many sources are yet to be found? 

As scientists broaden their breakthroughs on robotics, artificial intelligence and satellite monitoring, this technology will become more and more accessible and a reality on all the industrialized nations. 

The human body lacks the equipment to protect it in high depth. The creation and perfecting of these autonomous robots that can detect anomalies worthy of investigation without the need of a previous programming or a human remote control, are a huge breakthrough on the discovery of the largest portion of our planet.


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