Saturday 27 September 2008

Odyssey IV: An underwater robot that can hover in place

MIT researchers have developed a submarine robot that can hover like a helicopter. The craft, called Odyssey IV, is the latest in a series of small, inexpensive artificially intelligent submarines invented over the last two decades at the MIT's Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Laboratory.

The craft can move up to 6,000 meters down, stopping anywhere in the water column and constantly correcting for currents and obstacles. Navigating to its preprogrammed destination, it can hover in place, making detailed inspections of the footings of an offshore oil platform, or photographing the flora and fauna around an undersea vent.

The Odyssey IV's unique capabilities go beyond just looking at objects. It can be fitted out like a crane helicopter, that can pick up cargo underwater, plus the vessel will be able to do manipulations such as twisting a valve open or closed.

Not only can the craft hover, it can move quickly, up to two meters per second going straight ahead. Both its speed and its ability to stop in place are achieved through the combined action of fins and thrusters on each side, and at the bow and stern of the two-meter-long craft.

Here is a video of the Odyssey IV in ROV Mode on the surface of the water, whereas this video demonstrates the craft underwater within a laboratory tank.

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