Earlier in this issue you saw the incredible and strangely terrifying snake-like ROVs from Norwegian firm Eelume. On the friendlier end of the spectrum is Stanford University’s OceanOne, a humanoid robot built for reaching the places divers cannot.
According to the university, OceanOne “is powered by artificial intelligence and haptic feedback systems, allowing human pilots an unprecedented ability to explore the depths of the oceans in high fidelity.” Around five feet (XX metres) long, its head features stereoscopic vision to allow the pilot to see exactly what the robot is seeing, while the tail section houses batteries, computer systems and 8 multi-directional thrusters.
Most important to OceanOne are its incredibly dextrous and sensor-rich hands. “Each fully articulated wrist is fitted with force sensors that relay haptic feedback to the pilot’s controls, so the human can feel whether the robot is grasping something firm and heavy, or light and delicate. Eventually, each finger will be covered with tactile sensors,” Stanford explains.
Although its first deployment has been on archaeological missions, we can imagine a day very soon where this kind of haptic robot will be able to carry out complex construction, repair and maintenance at subsea sites.
OTHER IMAGES HERE: http://cs.stanford.edu/groups/manips/ocean-one.html
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have unveiled a technique for 3-D printing solids and liquids in a single step – allowing them to create a hydraulically-powered robot requiring no assembly.
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) used a modified (but commercially available) 3-D printer to deposit layers of a solid photopolymer and a non-curing liquid. The solid is then hardened using high-intensity UV light, leaving the liquid to flow around the system.
In 22 hours, this process allowed the team to manufacture a moving hexapod robot, which was completed by adding a motor and a battery. Internal bellows convert fluid pressure into the robot’s motion, and the whole assembly can be controlled via a smartphone.
In a separate print run, the team also printed a gear pump with continuous fluid flow.
Accelerating the process depends less on the particulars of our technique, and more on the engineering and resolution of the printers themselves,” noted Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT Daniela Rus. “Printing ultimately takes as long as the printer takes, so as printers improve, so will the manufacturing capabilities.”
Max Planck researchers have developed self-propelled tiny “microbots” that can remove lead or organic pollutions from contaminated water.
Working with colleagues in Barcelona and Singapore, Samuel Sanchez’s group used graphene oxide to make their microscale motors, which are able to adsorb lead from industrial wastewater from a level of 1,000 parts per billion to down to below 50 parts per billion in just an hour. The lead can later be removed for recycling, and the micromotors can be used multiple times.
In a statement, Sanchez – group leader at the Max-Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) in Barcelona – explained: “The outer shell of the microbot, which is graphene, captures the lead. The inner layer of platinum works as the engine, decomposing hydrogen peroxide as fuel so that the bot can self-propel.”
Between the layers of graphene oxide and platinum is a layer of nickel that allows researchers to control the movement and direction of the microbot magnetically from outside the container. The same principle is then used to gather all the microbots back after the adsorption is complete.
“In the future, our microbot swarm could be controlled by an automated system that magnetically guides them to carry out various tasks,” Sanchez added.
The team also investigated microbots capable of collecting or degrading organic pollutants, and is now examining methods of mass production.
Day of the Hunter
The US’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has christened the first vessel under the Agency’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) programme.
According to DARPA, this is “an entirely new class of ocean-going vessel” and will autonomously patrol thousands of miles of sea without any crew aboard. Its potential missions include submarine tracking and counter-mining activities.
Christened “Sea Hunter,” the vessel is a 130-foot (XX-metre) twin-screw trimaran, designed to remain highly stable in all kinds of weather. Because it does not need to house crew, it can also carry a greater payload of sensors and equipment at a greatly reduced cost compared to manned ships.
When desired, it can also be piloted remotely.
Current development plans suggest the technology could be handed over to the US Navy as early as 2018. Given a few more years of qualification, it could have profound effects on automation in supply and even intervention vessels in the maritime and oil and gas industries.
Taping a leak
This month we came across some interesting leak detection technology pioneered by NASA a few years ago.
Given the difficulty of storing and moving liquid hydrogen – and the danger of any potential escape – NASA required a method of accurately locating leaks. While sensors can detect the presence of hydrogen gas, pinpointing the exact piece of leaking infrastructure is more difficult.
A team from the Kennedy Space Center worked with University of Central Florida to investigate the creation of a chemochromic sensor which would change colour when exposed to hydrogen. This could then be deployed via a tape matrix around key pieces of infrastructure such as pipe welds and seals.
After two years of research, UCF researchers devised a pigment that could be added to a silicon caulk. According to a NASA release, the tape changes colour from beige to high-contrast black in less than three minutes at concentrations as low as 0.1% – well before the explosive combustion threshold of about 4%.
The pigment is passive – no power required – and is highly resistant to environmental factors such as ultraviolet exposure, salt spray and humidity, so this is good news for offshore installations and refiners.
It has since been patented and licensed as a commercial product to Florida-based HySense Technology, and marketed as Intellipigment™.