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Friday, March 06, 2009

Robots Used to Help Fight the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig burns as oil
pours into the Gulf of Mexico.[The Canadian Press]
If you follow the news somewhat, then you probably have heard about the Oil Spill at the Gulf of Mexico. The BP-owned well has been leaking for nearly two months, causing great disaster to the environment and ocean lives. In the process of fighting the oil leak, many new robotics technologies were put to test and proved to be very handy tools for gulf researchers.

iRobot Seaglider Robot
One robot used is the iRobot Seaglider, a deep-diving UUV (Underwater Unmanned Vehicle) used to detect and map leaked oil in the gulf. Seaglider was originally developed by University of Washington and later acquired by iRobot in June 2008. The robot is powered by changes of buoyancy and does not need a traditional propeller, which allows it to go on missions that last many months long. Sensors on the robot can detect levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, temperature, salinity, other ocean properties, and the presence of oil all the way down to 1,000 meters. The robot has been used to locate and monitor clouds of dispersed oil droplets. Data can be uploaded to a satellite and then distributed via the web to any web-capable devices around the world.

Scripps Glider: Spray
Another robot used is the Spray robot, which is also a submarine type underwater glider, developed under ONR (Office of Naval Research) support by Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Scientists. The robot is "fitted with a sensor similar to the one used used to measure chlorophyll, which is essential for the growth of plants." Scientists hope that the sensor can also pick up the spreading oil leak. The glider can dive up to 1,500 feet deep, and then periodically surface to relay data back to the scientists. It is also possible to use an i-Phone to command the glider, such as telling it to go up or down, turn, or to turn on/off sensors.

BP engineers also used ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicles) type robots to wield clamps and haul machinery in slow machine below the surface of the gulf to cap the renegade well. Video feeds showed the robots using a circular saw-like device to cut small pipes around the leaking riser. I cannot find more information about what kinds of ROV robots were used, but from the video below (from the perspective of the ROV robot) you can see that the ROV robot had arms and grippers tele-operated by human operators to perform manipulation tasks.


Isn't it amazing that we see robots everywhere these days? They are in the air, under the sea, and even in people's homes (not mentioning those ones on other planets). I sure have picked the right career! :)

Picture of the Day:

Giant Isopod that hitched a ride on an ROV in the Gulf of Mexcio. The subject of Isopocalypse 2010.