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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Robot of the Day: iRobot 1KA Seaglider, the Deep-Dive UUV/AUV

In a previous post, I talked about several robots used to fight oil spill at the Gulf of Mexico. Today I will focus on only one of them -- the iRobot 1KA Seaglider.

The Seaglider robot was originally developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory at University of Washington. It is submarine like UUV (Unmanned Underwater Vehicle) or AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) used to collect oceanology data under the surface of ocean water. (Go here to see more pictures.)

Seaglider ready to launch (Photo credit APL-UW)Seaglider in action (Photo credit APL-UW)
Seaglider is 1.8 meter long with wing span of one meter and weighs only 52 kg dry. Powered by 24V Lithium battery, Seaglider has a cruising range of 4600 km and can dive up to 1000 meters. As shown in the short animation below, the robot doesn't have any propeller and flies through water using changes in buoyancy for thrust. This minimum energy consumption allows the robot to stay in water for very long missions that many times last months long.

The Seaglider robot had been used to "track deep-diving mammals by their high-frequency clicks and squeals." It had also been deployed to the poles months underneath the sea ice for a study of climate change as shown in the video below. Every once a while, the robot would surface and then using the long antenna in its tail to send data to a satellite, which then become accessible from web-enabled devices. The operator can also upload preset way points to the robot for it to survey a certain region. The robot is also capable of loiter and drift modes that will allow the robot to maintain neutral buoyancy at any depth.

In June 2008, the Massachusetts based robotics company, iRobot (yes, the one that makes the popular home vacuum cleaner robots), purchased the Seaglider technology to mass produce it for military use. With its top speed at 25 cm/s, I'd think the robot is probably going to used for reconnaissance use instead of the more action-packed 007 style attacking missions. However, at $100,000 a piece, I don't know if this is tax money well spent. In the BP Oil Spill Crisis currently in progress, iRobot has sent several of this sleek autonomous submarines to the Gulf of Mexico to help collect ocean data and track the movement of the oil spill. The video below provides more detail on their effort.

Obviously, this robot is only good for the very patient type users. However, I just can't help asking this question, "if, by any chance, the robot gets swallowed by a big fish, will the fish get diarrhea?"

Picture of the Day:

How often do you see this man in a suit? And can you believe these two used to be teammates?

Argentina's coach Diego Maradona (L) speaks to midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron after substituting him during their 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match against Nigeria at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 12, 2010.
Photograph by: DAVID GRAY