Ever wondered how it is that we find out what goes on underwater, in the depths of the sea? Underwater research and exploration do take place with a little bit of help.
Keep reading to learn how we use Autonomous robots for underwater research and exploration.
Before we dive into how autonomous robots are used for underwater research and exploration, let’s cover some basics.
1. What is Autonomy?
Autonomy is a strong tool and must be used appropriately. In humans, it means free will, the ability to do whatever one pleases, be it walking, running, swimming, or thinking. It is no different in robots.
A truly autonomous robot can perceive, record, manipulate, sense, calculate, move, adapt, and make decisions based on its surroundings.
2. Are Robots Given Free Will?
The ability of the robots to perform an array of functions that are unattainable, for example, flying; and potentially fatal to humans, for example, spending days or even months in space, getting too close to the core of the earth, looking inside a volcano, being underwater for prolonged periods, is the raison d’être for their invention and usage.
The delegation of these dangerous tasks to robots allows people to focus their energy on other work. Automated vehicles, flying drones, underwater robots, self-charging robots, and delivery bots have been commonly used as autonomous robots in recent times.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…
But before we delve into the robots and AI vs. humans debate, let’s get some background on what exactly this autonomous robot is developed for and how it bridges the gap between us and the secrets of the ocean.
2.1 Why Do We Have Autonomous Robots?
Though this might sound intimidating and straight out of a science fiction movie where robots take over the world, that is not the case.
In actuality, humans have been using this technology since the 1940s. Some recent examples are the self-driving vacuum or Roomba, self-driving cars, and space probes.
Humans are curious beings and have been wanting to explore things in outer space, under the earth, and in the middle of the sea.
It was for these very purposes that we needed a reliable resource to be able to dig deep and look closely into these places so that they could be studied and understood.
Among these, the ocean, in itself, has been a mysterious phenomenon since time immemorial. It is often said that there is double the amount of life found underwater than what we see on land.
After significant endeavors from various scholars, people who have spent their lives studying the waters and its budding life, scientists, marine biologists, and explorers, it is not possible to reveal the enigmas of the ocean due to human limitations.
3. How is the Ocean Studied
Well, we can always resort to artificial spectacles for underwater research and exploration.
Yes, you read it right, the artificial spectacles we’re referring to here are robots. This is the true blending of science and nature. These are not merely any robots but autonomous robots that are fully capable of, in layman’s terms, functioning independently.
As the name suggests, autonomy occurs from being free of control, in this case, human control. Autonomous robots are intelligent machines that operate unassisted.
In opposition to regular robots (not that their usages are any less remarkable), autonomous robots require less effort to engage in on the part of their human counterparts who need to control them.
4. Uses of Autonomous Robots
Autonomous robots have been used in an array of fields like e-commerce, logistics, manufacturing, biotech, research and development, exploration, healthcare and medical fields, automobiles, inventory management in warehouses, delivery robots, and even disaster responses.
4.1 How Does It Work?
Autonomous robots have sensory receptors programmed into them which allows them to perceive the environment, navigate the space they are in, and act accordingly.
This qualifies them to go about without human interaction unless necessary or required to be a part of the task or job they have been assigned to do.
4.2 Autonomous Robots in Research and Exploration
Autonomous robots are also called Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). This is because they are generally mobile. The technological advancement concerning AMRs leads to a field of endless possibilities. The working conditions, shape, and size of autonomous robots also differ according to the task they are given.
Research and exploration require the robot to be able to capture, sense, perceive, and adapt as quickly as possible. The 3 central functions that a robot must carry out are perception, decision, and action.
These 3 processes can be compared to that of the functioning of a human brain and its corresponding bodily reflexes when it senses or perceives something in the environment that may require action in response.
It involves high-sensitivity detectors, high-vision cameras, and scanners embedded in the robot.
Based on what the robot perceives, the input from the surroundings is then processed and then turned into a calculated decision.
This is the phase where the movement occurs, an action is put into motion.
The field of research demands attention to detail, statistical knowledge, spatial awareness, mathematical abilities, and a lot more.
In addition to this, the robots will also need to possess high resistance to physical and atmospheric conditions.
Alright so we’ve established how autonomous robots work and why they might be important but
How does it function for underwater research? Let’s get into it now:
5. Underwater Research and Exploration
Oceanographers and marine biologists have widely accepted the across-the-board use of autonomous robots in the underwater exploration category. The ocean is a dynamic phenomenon and it requires the constant innovation of strategies to undertake research in the most extreme marine conditions.
A change in climatic conditions, a change in the aquatic situations of certain fish, measurements of the ocean floor, marine life flora and fauna, water conditions and temperatures, and treasure on the ocean bed, searching and discovering shipwrecked ships are all areas in which need careful research and it is not humanly possible to carry all of these out.
This is where the use of autonomous robots comes in. AMRs are aimed at increasing productivity by minimizing the workload of tedious, dangerous, and dirty tasks and maximizing and speeding up the research process through repetitive testing and engineering provisions and tools.
5.1 Autonomous Underwater Vehicles or AUVs
Diving into ocean depths requires specialized equipment and instruments. Some of these instruments need to be operated manually but with the advancement of autonomous robots, these devices no longer need to be tethered or operated.
These vehicles are specifically designed to adapt and thrive in underwater conditions. AUVs were developed in the 1960s and since then they have been the key performers in oceanographic discovery and exploration.
As the years progressed, they were enhanced more and more to include super-sensitive high-definition motion-sensing cameras for deep sea mapping projects.
AUVs are a subtype of AMRs but are named differently according to their usage. They have the sustainability and versatility to carry out various expeditions thousands of meters below sea level.
Real-time images and data obtained from underwater expeditions and projects are fundamental to the research related to aquatic life and other corresponding topics. Their sustainable characteristic and a wide variety of options in size and features also allow for multiple AUVs to be deployed in one specific area for better coverage and surveillance.
Below we will look at some examples and types of autonomous robots, or autonomous underwater vehicles, and how their functions are helping out and making research easy.
AUTOSUBs are automatic or autonomous submarines, that are a type of AUV. Submarines have been in underwater exploration projects for years. However, these are submarines that do not need an operator to navigate them.
They are fitted with instructions and directions to help them move around, navigate, and carry out the task or activity for which they are programmed.
A new, advanced type of Autosub has been developed to go through longer distances in the ocean and achieve the most efficient performance. They carry out functions like measuring the depths that they cover.
Gliders are one type of autonomous underwater vehicle that scans the ocean for months at a time. They work on the principle of buoyancy. Glider missions go on for a long time but the results are worth the wait.
They are used to measure the salt levels in the ocean, the chlorophyll in the plants, and the temperature. All this information is recorded by the holder and then sent to the shore or communicated remotely via satellites which then reach the information to the concerned researchers.
Gliders have been around for a while and are effective tools for gathering oceanographic data. Gliders can perform tasks that are not humanly possible to be carried out.
Though it is a high-end technology vehicle, it does not require much effort to operate. They consume less energy while carrying out their expedition so that they can go on for a longer stretch and are also inexpensive. Gliders are used as an alternative for propeller-based vehicles. They have been around for 20 years with huge commercial success.
5.1.3 Autonomous Surface Vehicles
Autonomous surface vehicles or ASVs are a recent development for scientific research purposes. Just as the name suggests, these autonomous vehicles are surface-bound and do not go into the depths of the water.
However, they carry out equally important research functions like measuring the speed of the wind from the surface of the ocean. These vehicles are much larger than AUVs so they require more energy. They can obtain this energy from wind or solar sources as they are on the surface of the water anyway.
5.1.4 Remotely Operated Vehicles
Again, with a self-explanatory name, Remotely operated vehicles are vehicles that can be controlled from a far-off distance. In this sense, they aren’t completely autonomous, but they still do not require a man force to be present inside and supervise them.
These vehicles are very easily manoeuvrable and differ in shape and size based on their function.
They carry signals to and from the ocean to the main ship or mother ship to which it is linked. They are also responsible for shooting and collecting high-definition videos from the depths of the ocean.
Now, this last example does not entirely fit in the AMR category because they are still being operated and supervised by an external force. This is a different category of (still) robots but not autonomous.
6. Not an AMR but an AGV
Automated guided vehicles or AGVs are, you must have guessed it right, vehicles that can carry out functions on their own but they need a little guidance along the way (don’t we all?).
A classic and most common example of this is drones. Flying drones or flying robots are fully capable of capturing images and videos but they need to be controlled and directed.
Now, just because they need some supervision, does not mean they are any less efficient in minimizing the workload or less effective machines.
However, we cannot group them within the category of AMRs as it would limit their scope and enormous potential in the various fields mentioned throughout this article.
7. Are Robots and AI the Same?
Sorry to pop your bubble but no, robots and AI are not the same thing. They are two separate fields but not mutually exclusive. They are very much related.
In layman’s terms, AI is a system that tries to imitate the thinking of the human mind whereas robotics involves the production of robots to perform tasks.
Companies that want their consumers to assume that their product is a form of advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) have made use of the term “robot”.
Besides automated actuators like robotic arms or motion control systems, the genuine definition of an autonomous robot has also been oversimplified and frequently used interchangeably with what amounts to pre-programmed robots. By default, however, all robots are semi-autonomous.
7.1 The Simplest Amr Example
The conventional industrial equipment you see on an assembly line for a vehicle company is frequently misidentified as a robot. They are incredible engineering achievements, but they aren’t robots at all; rather, they’re more like CNC (computer numerical cords) -controlled machines.
These industrial devices are pre-programmed to carry out a repeated motion, unlike a truly autonomous robot. They are powerless to respond. Autonomous mobile robots are best understood when seen in action.
The Roomba is undoubtedly the best-known and most popular autonomous robot on the market right now. Despite being a consumer product, the Roomba’s features and capabilities apply to the warehouse and industrial setting, making AMRs a far more generally available technology.
The Roomba is capable of acting and making judgments depending on what it notices in its surroundings. It doesn’t need assistance from a person and can be left alone in a room to complete its task.
The Roomba uses a series of sensors to perceive its surroundings, choose an acceptable course of action based on those observations, and then carry out that course of action.
The same principles apply to warehouse robots; if an AMR runs into a problem while carrying out predetermined tasks, it will find a way around it and carry on without human intervention.
Given that technical specifications can be extremely complex, autonomous robots are primarily a combination of (often artificially intelligent) software, actual robotics hardware, and sensors.
Currently, a majority of autonomous robots possess a limited ability to navigate their surroundings and are reliant on human intervention for assistance.
Nevertheless, this situation is expected to undergo significant transformation in the coming years, as advancements in technology continue to enhance the ‘intelligence’ of these robots.
We hope this article helped you in understanding how we use autonomous robots for underwater research and exploration.