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Earth Robotics Hardware

The First Robot To Cross the Atlantic Ocean Underwater 156

Posted by kdawson
from the six-days-short-of-pi dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "She was at sea for 221 days, alone, often in dangerous places, and usually out of touch. Most of the time she was out of contact underwater, moving slowly up and down to depths of 600 feet, safe from ships, nets, and storms. Her predecessor had disappeared on a similar trip, probably killed by a shark. 'She was a hero,' says Rutgers University oceanographer Scott Glenn after retrieving Scarlet Knight, the 7-foot-9-inch submersible robot from the stormy Atlantic off western Spain. An engineer working for the company that made the submersible said, 'We think this will just be a precursor, like Lindbergh's trip across the Atlantic. In a decade we think it will be commonplace to have roving fleets of these gliders making transoceanic trips.' The people responsible for building, funding, and flying Scarlet hope the end of the robot's successful voyage will mark a new beginning in ocean and climate research. From its position at each surfacing — when the glider surfaced and called home via an Iridium telephone parked in its tail — researchers could calculate the net effect of currents deep and shallow. After surface currents were measured, the scientists could then make inferences about what was happening deeper in the water column. Scarlet called home to upload data to researchers three times a day. 'When we have hundreds of them, or thousands of them, it will revolutionize how we can observe the oceans,' says Jerry L. Miller, a senior policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who accompanied the research team to Spain."
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The First Robot To Cross the Atlantic Ocean Underwater

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:04PM (#30506982)
    This might fill a few gaps in the already running Argo fleet of passive probes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argo_(oceanography) [wikipedia.org]. These probes, of which there are already thousands around, are probably more cost efficient than something actively plowing through the ocean. Paying cargo ships to tow a probe behind them would probably work as well.

    But then again the article mentions the U.S. Navy, so this is probably for something more than just harmless oceanography.
  • by EdIII (1114411) * on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:51PM (#30507324)

    Actually, been going on for years, just not autonomous. Humans lives are cheaper than automated systems!

    Actually, you are wrong about that. Those submarines the drug cartels were creating started at about $1 million dollars to produce. So these automated subs would already be a fraction of the price and could be unmanned, an added bonus. Unmanned subs don't use product and don't require armed guards to protect them from the workers on the way there.

    Those costs would also go down in the future, so it could become much cheaper and safer to operate than manned systems.

  • Re:Did anyone else (Score:3, Informative)

    by MooUK (905450) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:42PM (#30507610)

    The *first* one was *an* hero. This one survived.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:45PM (#30507636)

    my point--which I guess I didn't make sufficiently clear--is that I'm talking about seeing bomb-carrying (and drug-carrying) UAVs in the hands of non-governmental forces. It is odd that we haven't, given how cheaply it could be done

    Oh, they're certainly working on it [armscontrol.ru].

    And ICBMs do have sophisticated guidance systems.

  • Re:Did anyone else (Score:4, Informative)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmytheNO@SPAMjwsmythe.com> on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:55PM (#30507680) Homepage Journal

        It's very common to call ships (boats, canoes, etc) "she".

  • by EdIII (1114411) * on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:08PM (#30507736)

    unless there is a way to ensure that a drone will make it into the right hands there won't be too many of these things filled with anything of any real value floating around. It's just impossible to make a deal this way, what one sides sends a drone full of cocaine, while the other sends a drone full of greenback or some other currency?

    Makes no sense, how do you ever prove that the package made it to the right hands and that money must be paid? It's ridiculous.

    You are creating problems that don't exist, and are quite easily solved. Far from ridiculous, my friend.

    The right hands is pretty simple. Only the right hands would know the GPS coordinates and correct time to look for the thing in the first place. Submerges a couple hundred feet? Yeah, that makes it really easy for the wrong hands to find. Moves autonomously? Can move between several pick up points depending on the time and date? Yeah... it's not going to be that easy to find if you don't know where you are looking first.

    We got cocaine in it, so why not C4? Even if you accidentally come across one you better have the right security codes to open it up, or Keanu Reeves handy with some wire cutters to defuse the bomb. The governments of course would just blow it up, which would make it really interesting for the fish in the area :)

    Deals? Currency exchanges? You are making the assumption that this is outside of the organization. Inter-organizational transfers would not be that complicated and all of the knowledge about where the automated subs are remains within trusted organization members.

    Even deals between distributors and suppliers would not be that difficult either. Supplier gets coordinates, times, and security codes to pick up money from one spot and then delivers the coordinates, times, and security codes to the distributor so they get the product. If the deal does not occur within a certain time period, the automated sub returns to the supplier for "refueling" (if even necessary) and new instructions. Assuming that is even necessary. It might be possible for the automated sub to receive instructions remotely which means they could just be in "hover" mode off the coast.

    As for proof, you are speaking to levels of trust and experience between the groups running the drug trade right now. That problem exists regardless of the technology and mediums in which you are transporting the product and currencies.

    I would imagine that the first deal would require a bit of an arms length type transaction or escrow with a trusted 3rd party, but after that it would probably run pretty smoothly.

    The information regarding the GPS coordinates, times, and security codes would remain with trusted individuals in the two organizations and only travel through trusted and vetted channels.

    Your problems are really quite easily solved.

  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:51PM (#30507930) Homepage Journal

    A previous /. article quite some time ago talked about the invention of these underwater gliders and how they could travel enormous distances on very, very little power. Basically they operate by making small changes in buoyancy. When slightly heavier than the water around them, they sink, but the water flowing over their wings drives them forward for significant distance for every meter they descend. Then they reverse it to become slightly lighter than the water, rising and again moving forward. Because this takes so little energy, they can travel thousands of kilometers on internal batteries.

    However, there are other variants [bbc.co.uk] that don't use stored energy for propulsion at all, instead making use of temperature differentials to change their buoyancy. In deep, cold water they become positively buoyant, but when they're warmed by surface water they become negatively buoyant.

    The article isn't very clear, but I don't think this one is thermally-powered.

  • Here's one way (Score:2, Informative)

    by zogger (617870) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @10:37PM (#30508444) Homepage Journal

    Throw away pre paid cellphone with a camera inside the shipment. The consignee must turn it on, call the preset number, offer visual recognition of identity, along with an automatic GPS location (which should be pretty darn close to its programmed point of arrival), this recognition sequence to be determined in advance, hand signs, holding up an object, whatever, any good variable there.

        The senders recognize it is *their* phone with the shipment calling them, so they know it was found, and trust or not trust the recipients based on the challenge/response agreement. If trust, after the recipients pass these bona fides, they get sent a return text message with the decode sequence so the whole shipment doesn't explode in their face. A short time window for all this to happen once the sub passes the point of locked up secure to recieved and being opened. The senders know when it should be getting there, they built and sent the thing, they know its range and speed, etc, so if they don't get any signal at all around when they should be expecting it, so they can send an "OK so far" signal, the thing is programmed to go to another location then sink and hold on the bottom or return someplace else or back to origin, whatever there.

        The actual shipment can be in a pressurized container, any change of pressure sends a first radio message to the senders that the shipment is "there", there being someplace at least, it has been received by someone, and opened, so the next step determines eligibility or not. A lot of options there besides pressurized, could be a humidity sensor, heat, stuff like that, a motion sensor inside the cargo compartment maybe. Off the shelf industrial/greenhouse/agricultural/security sensors indicating a change outside of the traveling underwater normal. A glass window integrity circuit on the inside. Lot of stuff there out on the market now.

    And if all of this has been MIMed/compromised anyway, the point is moot, both ends are screwed.

      If operational integrity has been present though, we have trust + verify so the exchange is complete and satisfactory at both ends. Basically just a variation on pub and private key for verification, with tangibles instead of electronic data as the exchanged "stuff". the actual sub-in-hand is public of course, the challenge response to get the "not blow up" code is private. There's no crypto scrambling of content, but that's where the shipment being booby trapped comes in. If it is compromised, it is lost anyway, if it is a theft, you make sure it is lost, plus maybe take out the thief or man in the middle "interdiction" forces.

    disclaimer: for academic research and hollywood amusement purposes only of course.... so ya whatever if they got james bond with Q in tow and cut into the sub while it is traveling underwater and know in advance what the pressure must be maintained at and all sorts of other jazz like that it could be stolen, but that's a pretty large amount of work plus amazing psychic powers you would need to have to steal the thing and actually get to the contents. Bomb disposal squads more just try to blow the thing safely rather than jump through all sorts of mission impossible tricks to defuse some device once it is on a fast count down timer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @11:22PM (#30508672)

    Just check out the photo gallery [liquidr.com]. These babies can withstand a whale attack.

  • by sznupi (719324) on Monday December 21, 2009 @01:26AM (#30509300) Homepage

    Not really.

    I wouldn't be surprised if construction from styrofoam and wood (covered with "tension foil" or fiberglass with epoxy) is actually quite sturdy against shotgun pellets.

    Also, small UAVs (well, RC planes...) get lost from sight at quite low altitude; especially when your eyes aren't fixated on it. Or you don't expect it coming. Quietly... (electrics can have quite long flying time already; or one can be both electric and internal combustion, front and rear propeller, switching off IC engine half an hour before destination)

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday December 21, 2009 @02:29AM (#30509558) Homepage

    The downside is that a boat propeller will turn it into confetti.

    So far, one hasn't been run over by a large ship. But they think the bow wave may just push it under for a while. Their control center on shore steers the Wave Riders of the way of large ships (for which position reporting is available.)

    They had discussions with the U.S. Coast Guard. Should they have the thing show a light? The Coast Guard decided it was better if they didn't, because ships would then expect it to obey the Rules of the Road, or attempt to rescue it. So the Coast Guard classifies it as "floating debris". The floater is basically a surfboard.

  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday December 21, 2009 @03:25PM (#30515592) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, because just because you're underwater, the regular physics rulebook doesn't apply anymore. If you think that making "small changes in buoyancy" will give you any energy benefits at all, you must be living in some alternate universe where all the 100mpg carburetor people are teleported from. Sheesh.

    I shouldn't feed trolls, but... Here's the wiki page on underwater gliders [wikipedia.org], with links to more information about how they work.

    It's not an issue of "normal physics" not applying, but rather of exploiting normal physics in an unusual, and very efficient, way. For example, the Slocum electric glider [auvac.org] runs for 30 days on 260 C-cell batteries, meaning nominal power consumption is only 3.4W, to move a 110-lb glider at a velocity of 0.4 m/s. At that speed, it will cover just over 1000 km during a 30-day journey. That is phenomenal efficiency.

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