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Underwater Robot Powered By Ocean's Thermal Energy 40

Posted by Soulskill
from the maybe-skynet-evolves-from-the-seas dept.
separsons writes "A team of scientists recently created the world's first underwater robotic vehicle powered entirely by renewable ocean thermal energy. Researchers from NASA, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the US Navy developed Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging (SOLO-TREC), an autonomous robot that runs on a thermal recharging engine. The engine derives power from the natural temperature differences found at varying ocean depths. SOLO-TREC produces about 1.7 watts of power each dive, enough to juice the robot's science instruments, GPS receiver, communication device, and buoyancy control pump. SOLO-TREC is poised to revolutionize ocean monitoring; previous robots could spend only a limited amount of time underwater because of depleting power sources. SOLO-TREC can stay beneath the surface of the waves for indefinite amounts of time. Based on SOLO-TREC's success, NASA and the US Navy plan to incorporate thermal recharging engines in next-generation submersibles."
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Underwater Robot Powered By Ocean's Thermal Energy

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  • Need .711 gigadives to make 1.21 gigawatts!

    Now does it hit 88mph?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      DeLoreans are submersible, but I don't think they ever make it back to the surface, so you'd better hit your 88 MPH on the way down.
    • FTFA, it's 1.7 Watt-Hours (6100 Joules) generated, rather than 1.7 watts. It's still peanuts though really.

      • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:48AM (#31799976)

        FTFA, it's 1.7 Watt-Hours (6100 Joules) generated, rather than 1.7 watts. It's still peanuts though really.

        It true that 1.7 Watt Hours isn't much, but it doesn't need to be a lot, it just needs to be enough.

      • by goombah99 (560566)

        I'm puzzled over the "per dive" part of this. this seems to imply it's that downward dive itself that is some how producing the energy. that is to say this energy is not continuously produced but would require another dive cycle to produce. So it' can't stay down. perhaps it can cycles dives autonomously?

        And how is this power produced. I'm going to guess what is happening is that it comes up and warms up till it's core temperature is at the ambient surface temperature. Then it drops like a rock, and

        • by FlyingGuy (989135)

          My SWAG ( Sonarmans Wild Ass Guess) is that it has to repeatedly move up and down through the water column. One you are past the main thermocline the ocean is a pretty constant temp. It might be based on sterling or something like that.

        • by Iron Condor (964856) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @02:30PM (#31800706)

          And how is this power produced. I'm going to guess what is happening is that it comes up and warms up till it's core temperature is at the ambient surface temperature. Then it drops like a rock, and uses the heat differential between the core and the cold water to drive some thermo electric engine in reverse. perhaps they toss in some phase change material to extend the thermal capacity.

          or is it something different?

          Why not ask the people who built it? From http://solo-trec.jpl.nasa.gov/SOLO-TREC/ [nasa.gov] :

          Special Phase Change Materials (PCMs) on-board the SOLO-TREC expand about 13% when heated above 10 degree Celsius and then correspondingly contract when cooled below 10 degree Celsius. This expansion/contraction produces a high pressure oil that can be collected and periodically released to drive a hydraulic motor for electricity generation and battery recharging. Since its deployment, SOLO-TREC has been making 3~4 dives per day between the surface and 500 meters depth, producing about 1.6 Watt-hours of power each dive to operate the on-board sensors, GPS receiver and communication device.

          I'd like to add that JPL is of course the place to go to if you need to run gizmos for a long time on almost-no-energy input, reliably, in rather hostile environments. I mean - the Voyagers are still sending data home, 30+ years later , 100+ AU away and with a transmitter not much better than a modern cell phone...

    • ... Intel announces plans to ship systems equipped with an experimental 48-core CPU ... . According to Sean Koehl, technology evangelist with Intel Labs, the chip only draws between 25 and 125 Watts

      Well, I guess this new sub won't have this Intel 48-core Gigantium Inside.

  • by sznupi (719324) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:48AM (#31799972) Homepage

    I wonder...with the temperatures in the deep quite predictable, likewise at the surface in targeted time period and location, perhaps underwater glider with buoyancy control via passive mass having "weird" thermal expansion properties would be also feasible? Who knows if worthwhile though, with less precision and need for control pump anyway, for surfacing...

    • The Deep Flight Merlin [deepflight.com] is positively buoyant and operates as an underwater plane.

  • How hard can it be to not mess up units while talking about energy and power?

    How far can a 80 mph car go?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fuego451 (958976)

      "How far can a 80 mph car go?"

      About 580,000 rods per hogshead, depending.

    • by tsalmark (1265778)
      For blog authors, very hard it would seem. The initial article states it in watt hours "1.7 watt-hours, or 6,100 joules, of energy per dive"
  • Can this robot hold a position, or return to a position upon surfacing and learning its position? Or is at the mercies of the ocean currents as to where it ends up?

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A steering AUV which is propelled under the ocean's thermal gradient is being developed by Teledyne Webb Research:
      http://www.webbresearch.com/thermal.aspx

      This has been around for a number of years so while the parent story is perhaps the first to be 'entirely' powered, the ocean has been powering such devices for years. The current model is 4th or 5th generation and is currently being flown in partnership with Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences:
      http://rucool.marine.rutgers.edu/
      To t

    • Can this robot hold a position, or return to a position upon surfacing and learning its position? Or is at the mercies of the ocean currents as to where it ends up?

      No, it can't. It can adjust its depth; that's all.

      Compare the Wave Glider [liquidr.com], from Liquid Robotics. This is a privately funded product. It has two parts, a surface "floater" that looks like a surfboard, and a tethered "glider", which hangs below it, about 10m underwater. Wave action on the floater pulls the glider up, and gravity brings it d

  • GPS? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Hm? Underwater GPS receiver? I am quite sure that the readio signals from the satellites do not pass through water....
    Did I miss something?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bearhouse (1034238)

      Hm? Underwater GPS receiver? I am quite sure that the readio signals from the satellites do not pass through water....
      Did I miss something?

      The spell check?

    • The vehicle has a probe that sticks out over the surface upon surfacing. After a short wait to allow the hydrophobic antenna cover to shed water, the GPS antenna is used to get data, and the Iridium antenna is used to send a message via SMS to the network with the data from a COTS PTS sensor and the GPS data and other health data.

  • I don't recall hearing about this technique for producing energy before. I wonder how useful it would be to make a similar device to produce energy and send it back up...
    • I don't recall hearing about this technique for producing energy before. I wonder how useful it would be to make a similar device to produce energy and send it back up...

      I'm betting that if it isn't a simple stirling engine of some sort (maybe a miniature form of what's in the Kockums submarine [stirlingengines.org.uk]) then it might be some form of OTEC [wikipedia.org] which would explain the "per dive" referenced in the article as it has to pass from one thermal extreme to the other.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We did run this story on April 07, 2010 (link is here: http://www.global-adventures.us/2010/04/07/underwater-robot/). Temperatures at depth are not always easy to predict since they are influenced by many factors including ocean currents, light penetration (i.e. algae bloom). If it's made available, this technology will allow scientists to cover larger bodies of water, gain more data and over time a better understanding of whats going on in our Oceans.

  • What about Rutgers glider, Atlantic Glider, that has already crossed the Atlantic ocean? If I'm not mistaken it is completely powered by the thermal difference between the surface of the ocean and deeper water as well. http://rucool.marine.rutgers.edu/atlantic/ [rutgers.edu]
    • And let us not forget the ancient technology which Columbus used to cross the atlantic! I heard it was powered by wind and oceanic currents!
    • The Rutgers vehicle depended on primary batteries, which is arguably the wiser choice for a variety of reasons. Primary batteries are used to successfully deploy ARGUS probes for years at a relatively low cost (I believe $5k a copy or less), and even power the displacement pumps used for profiling. The passive wax system is nothing new and can be more economical for longer missions than primary batteries for profiling control, although there is really no size or weight advantage. The use of the phase change

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