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Underwater Robots for Everyone 145

Dirak writes "A small 112-pound ocean glider named Spray is the first autonomous underwater vehicle to cross the Gulf Stream underwater. Launched September 11, 2004, it has been slowly making 12 miles per day measuring various properties of the ocean. Spray spent 15 minutes three times a day on the surface to relay its position and information about ocean conditions and then glided back down to 3,300-feet depth ." And reader RoboFreak writes "Two Computer Science students at Brigham Young University-Hawaii have developed a Low Cost Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. The students also entered their robot, LUV, in the AUVSI and ONR's 7th International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition at San Diego, CA and competed against top Ivy-League teams. Their robot received recognition in the form of an award at this competition. This robot was designed with a budget of only about $600 and seems to be the cheapest AUV around. One of the AUV designers' interview conducted by Amit Kr Chanda of The Times of India is available here."
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Underwater Robots for Everyone

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:06PM (#10742843)
    A game called Evil Genius [], Robots with Shotguns [], and now Underwater Robots. Must... not... make... Austin... Powers... Joke.
  • Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stripsurge ( 162174 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:07PM (#10742854) Homepage
    Its nice to see a few bucks thrown towards exploring our own planet. Sure its great to look for life on other planets, but there are still "creatures of the deep" right here waiting to be discovered. Granted this particular craft didn't have life exploration but this technology could be mass produced at that price and scour the oceans for all kinds of goodies.
    • Re:Finally (Score:4, Insightful)

      by headbulb ( 534102 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @05:15PM (#10743105)
      It makes sense to spend money on things to explore our own planet.

      Stuff is cheap to make here, Why not make the mistakes cheaply so that when we go to make the vehicle to explorer other planets. (some moons have a liquid substance) We already have the knowhow and only have a few things to re-engineer.

      Some ask why it was so cheap for the spaceshipone to be built and flown.. Well thats because we already spent tons of money figuring out how to do alot of the stuff they did on the spaceshipone. So to say that America (or any other country, I do have to give the Russians credit) has been wasting money on the space program, and then try to use the price of spaceshipone as proof doesn't go over too well.

      So as we build on our collective experience's/knowledge things get cheaper.
      Same applies to alot of the objects we use everyday.
  • by blackmonday ( 607916 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:09PM (#10742863) Homepage
    There's been a lot of talk about robots around here lately, so I want to reiterate - It's all good until they become self aware!

  • by wattersa ( 629338 ) <andrew@andrewwatt e r s . c om> on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:10PM (#10742866) Homepage
    I for one won't be satisfied until they have sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads, at which time I'll welcome our new weaponized underwater...underlords. meh.
  • Not for everybody (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sketerpot ( 454020 ) * <> on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:11PM (#10742869)
    This is great for people who want to do underwater stuff cheaply, but it isn't for everyone. When was the last time you needed an underwater robot? There are lots of people who would be able to put these to good use. There are people using underwater robots to log dead trees that were submerged by the construction of dams. Using lots of cheaper underwater robots could be a better way of doing underwater exploration than a few expensive but beefier robots.
    • by Krow10 ( 228527 ) <> on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:29PM (#10742943) Homepage
      When was the last time you needed an underwater robot?
      Oh, for fuck's sake! I absolutely loathe the "when was the last time you needed..." objection. It's fucking cool. That's enough. I might build one for just that reason (been looking to get back into autonomous vehicles for a bit, and maybe I can take up scuba again at the same time.) When was the last time most people needed broadband? Fucking "good use." That shit's for grant applications.


    • Underwater robots that can go long distances on the seabed with 20-50 kilos of 'sensitive goods', use GPS to maintain their course (if GPS works underwater), wait quietly at a predetermined destination upon arrival, and then float to the surface and signal their exact location to a pick-up cigar boat would be a dream to smugglers.

      'Log dead trees?'

      Man, you are not thinking about the real possiblities that these machines offer!!
      • Here's my $600.

        Deliver it to Victoria, BC.

        I'll load it with 80 pounds of primo BC bud and send it off on its little journey across the sound. Ten to fifteen hours later, I'll be waiting at the little cove outside Sequim, Washington with my new SUV ('just $100 down, show your paycheck stub, and drive off the lot in your new SUV!!', says the radio ad).

        The little sucker can drive itself up the ramp into my new SUV with tinted windows right up from the dock.

        Then a leisurely six hour drive back to Port
      • Man, you are not thinking about the real possiblities that these machines offer!!

        I am. For one thing, it would make a deadly naval mine, but I think somebody already mentioned that on another string.

        As for productive uses, there are many, but the one that intrigues me most is for studying marine mammal populations, particularly whales. Using these for protracted studies would be a hell of a lot cheaper than paying to crew a boat filled with scientists.

      • Don't forget terrorists. A nuke, a biological, or even chemical weaponary will be delivered at any port.

        But it will also help learn about the ocean.

    • Well if you want to be picky $600 is more than a years salary for a majority of the worlds population so I don't think it is a robot for everyone.
  • by slumpy ( 304072 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:12PM (#10742873) Homepage
    There seems to be an awful lot of articles on robots lately. I'm beginning to worry the slashdot offices were taken over by shotgun wielding robots who have just gained underwater capabilities. Due to the robots iron grasp, this is the only way the editors can commmunicate to us their need for help against them.
  • CUAUV (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:17PM (#10742892)
    cornell university has a student team [] that competes in the same AUVSI competition, and has a pretty sweet vehicle. designed almost exclusively by engineering undergrads, with no faculty intervention, and a lot of the components and boards are designed in-house. cool sensors, cool computers, and it all runs gentoo!
    • Re:CUAUV (Score:2, Informative)

      by doopokko ( 677503 )
      I'm the captain of the only high school team [] that competes in this competition. The BYU sub placed 17th out of 18 teams, and we placed 8th. However, the BYU sub cost aproximiately 1/50th as much as ours to build. We've got a lot to learn from these guys about dollar-efficiency.
  • Really quite amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anethema ( 99553 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:17PM (#10742893) Homepage
    As a studying EE stuff like this facinates me.

    Just uses a small Li Ion battery to change its relative density to float or jsut does this at 45 degrees to make forward progress. No prop or anything.

    Stuff like this is NOT easy to do, although quite a bit easier that a land vehicle that has to navigate an obstacle course at speed. But to have these little guys make long distance treks MULTIPLE times while doing very well to keep its line and make measurements while its going it..VERY good engineering for the amount of money spent.

    I wonder if they ever have a problem with ocean life? Plenty of larger fish and sharks in that water..would be kind of funny/sad if one got eaten.

    They say in the webpage about it that one got ran over by a surface vehicle and still completed it run, since it has an antenna in each wing and only one wing was damaged.

    I say again, this is great engineering.
  • But do they have underwater shotguns?
  • ...before the terrorists learn about them.

    Oops, too late.

    Coming soon to a hastily evacuated seaport near you.
    • A few hundred of these, and oil transport in supertankers will no longer be feasible.

      We have a problem coming up.

      • Re:Mod parent up (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mrcoffee ( 135219 )
        "A few hundred of these, and oil transport in supertankers will no longer be feasible."

        This is not economically feasible for terrorists by any stretch of the imagination. I attended the 2004 AUVSI underwater competition and while Brigham Young's appearance and attempt was commendable, the fact is that their $600 vehicle couldn't even travel in a straight line for the 15 feet needed to pass through the velidation gate. They took last place overall, with the exception of a team that was disqualified. Now, I
    • They only move at about .5 knots, and so wouldn't make good underwater cruise missiles, nor would they be hard to track with any good system as they slowly lumber into the field of view.
      • If there were hundreds of them, how would you know which ones were dangerous and which were decoys?

        Since they don't need to surface, they could hug the bottom of the ocean floor, coming to land somewhere convenient to detonate a payload.

        Or they could attach themselves to the sides of ships and wait to stop moving (probably close to a harbor).
    • Actually,

      AUVs are on the other side in the "war on terror". A major application for AUVs is harbor security. Think about a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles assigned to a harbor. The vehicles, with a diverse sensor suite composed of vision and sonar subsystems, patrol the harbor looking for unusual activity. When a ship enters the harbor a few vehicles will swarm it and scan the hull. They can be equipped with sensors like giger counters to detect suspicious cargo.

      This system would also be self-maintaini
      • [sound of light bulb lighting]

        Ah, I see. You could have a harbor full of underwater drones, like antibodies. They cruise around looking for stuff and send up warning signals.

        You wouldn't want them to do anything on their own, to minimize the damage of a false positive. Blowing up a boat full of Cuban refugees might not be politically viable.
    • July of 2002, less than a year after 9/11 I sailed into San Francisco harbor after being at sea for over 3 weeks, not seeing a single other ship, and only 1 plane the entire time (sailing from Kauai). Certainly 3 weeks is enough time to hook up with another ship, transfer the nuke, etc. We were never approached by the coast guard, and docked and drove away without being challenged by customs or immigration.
      Not that I'm worried though, since January 2002, Americans were 1.5 times more likely to be killed b
      • Damn, I hate it when I do that...
        I read that statistic in the paper this morning, quoted it, then after posting thought to lookup the number of deaths due to lightning. Turns out only about 90/year. I think harpers was doing their math with the number of lightning deaths since 1959.
        Still, the number of deaths due to things like the flu and car accidents dwarf terrorism, and people should use their intellect to deal with the threat of terrorism, not their heart/fears, as that's what gives the terrorists po
  • So where's a picture of this awesome sounding glider?

  • Pool (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 3770 ( 560838 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:23PM (#10742920) Homepage


    Only $600 for one of these puppies. I'm getting one, underwater camera and all, for the local university pool.
    • Only $600 for one of these puppies.

      That's 600 dollars in India, which is equivalent to about 6,000,000 dollars in the US. Then of course, if you bang it up in a crash, then you'll have to rebuild it. You'll have to build it better, stronger, and faster than it was before. And who knows how much that will cost then.
      • Umm... thats 600 in the US actually. It was built at BYUH, by and Indian and an Indonesian. :)
        • Yeah I know, my reply was just a really bad joke, which you might have to be thirtysomething at least to fully get. Sorry. ;)

          Seriously though, pretty impressive for a small college student project.
          • I actually got the joke. Don't worry. I think geeks across all ages are alike. ;) Thanks for the encouraging words at the end. We hope to do better in the future.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Refueling cost ~ $3000"

    And we thought oil was expensive?!?!

  • AutoCAD had been sponsoring undersea explororation for quite some time.

    AutoCAD is the big gorilla in the CAD world, but we never see anyone complaining about their domination.

    Is this because nobody knows what CAD is all about?
    • AutoCad is the biggest, but it has plenty of competition. AutoCad is on top because it's software is very good at what it does, and the huge base of drafters trained to use it. AutoDesk (the maker of AutoCad) has sponsored lots of robotics and educational things, especially the FIRST robotics competition. People don't complain about the market leader when they deserve the position.
    • Solidworks (Score:3, Informative)

      by xtal ( 49134 )
      Autocad is no longer the gorilla it used to be. Solidworks is eating their lunch, at least from what I have seen, although it is unfortunate neither one of them has embraced OSX so I can justify one of those pretty machines.

      A solid modelling open source program of comparable quality would make real difference to small manufacturing companies. I am suprised nothing like this has appeared already, actually.

      • Thanks for the reply even if you don't know what you're talking about.

        I also would welcome open source CAD and would be willing to devote time to its development.

        • Thanks for the reply even if you don't know what you're talking about.

          Come again? I design embedded software for CNC machines. Every one of the manufacturing companies I work for is in the process of moving away, has completely moved away, or wants nothing to do with Autocad. They are all using the more attractively priced and (subjectively) easier to use Solidworks and the solid modelling approach, something Autocad was late to the game with.

          It strikes me that there is enough resources being spent for
  • by asadodetira ( 664509 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:33PM (#10742959) Homepage
    Some features of this design are truly genius..
    • The machine requires little energy to operate, the pump only runs every once in a while to change its density
    • The battery packs are used as counterweights to steer the vehicle
      Talk about clever design, this is like the Burt Rutan of underwater. I wonder if we'll see new developments on this technology, like submarine tourism, the underwater X-prize or something like that.
    • by OctaneZ ( 73357 ) <ben-slashdot2@uma. l i t e c> on Saturday November 06, 2004 @05:56PM (#10743260) Journal
      The pump actually pumps vegetable oil from an internal bladder to an external one; this active pumping is required because we pull a vaccuum on the hull which holds the electonics and internal oil resevoir. The glider is then ballasted for ~1000m, so no energy unput is needed to reach the bootom depth, then after hitting the bottom, the pump turns on, increases the volume of the unit (the mass stays the same) thus decreasing the density, and we begin to float up, ascent is then contolled by draining and expanding the external bladders as neccessary to assure a constant gradual ascent to the surface.
      At the surface we then rotate one of the battery packs 90 from center to aim the GPS receiver and IRIDIUM antenna which are embedded in the wings at the sky. really a neat design. The pitch of the vehicle is controlled by moving the second battery pack for and aft within the housing, to create the proper atittude.
    • Agreed. I especially like how they rotate a battery pack in order to lift one wing out the water and use it as an antenna :-)
  • Academic AUV's (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ROMOS ( 828813 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:36PM (#10742970) Homepage
    I feel compelled to point out the work that Cornell students are doing in AUV development. We have a student project team called CUAUV, []. Our vehicle, in its fourth generation is capabile of extended deployments and real-world missions in deep water.

    CUAUV showcases its work annually at the international AUV competition held at the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems facility (SPAWAR) in San Diego. The competition is organized by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Cornell won the 2003 competition, placed second in 2004 and 2002, and is one of the most consistently innovative and successful teams to participate each year.

    Although the competition provides an excellent framework for the development of our platform, we pride ourselves on our submarine's capability to perform a wide range of missions beyond the scope of the competition. A single trial in the competition is often as short as fifteen minutes, but our submarine can easily perform a six-hour continuous mission. We have taken great care to keep our vehicle platform robust and modular - competitive with the best commercial AUVs available today. Our vehicle serves as an advanced research platform, and we are continually looking to develop new partnerships within the research community.
  • by earthforce_1 ( 454968 ) <earthforce_1@[ ] ['yah' in gap]> on Saturday November 06, 2004 @04:46PM (#10742996) Journal
    Just think, an autonomous drug smuggling robot sub that could drop its cargo if the coast guard gets uncomfortably close, then go back and retrieve it later. And even if it were captured or destroyed, there would be nobody on board to turn state's evidence against their boss. (Presumably it would automatically wipe its memory if tampered with) About the only way to catch the smugglers in the act would be to covertly track the robot to the rendezvous point.

    In the vein of the shotgun toting robot, it might make an effective military weapon as well. A tiny, autonomous sub that could navigate a pre-programmed course and deliver a nuke, launch torpedoes and drop mines at a predesignated target. Sort of an underwater cruise missile or recon drone.

    • I am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter (for $15,000,000 in cash). Please contact with more information about your "newsletter".


    • i did read something about this several years back, where drug smugglers attached submarine-type things to the keel of ocean freight carriers.

      these things weren't much bigger than a bath-tub and had electromagnets powered by rotors using the forward movement of the carriers.

      they would use the carrier as a huge receiver to pick up GPS signals, and at some pre-programmed location (near the destination port) would drop off and wait to be picked up.

      quite bizzare but i believe they (are still???) successful

    • You misspelled "terrorists"
    • Just think, an autonomous drug smuggling robot sub that could drop its cargo if the coast guard gets uncomfortably close, then go back and retrieve it later. And even if it were captured or destroyed, there would be nobody on board to turn state's evidence against their boss. (Presumably it would automatically wipe its memory if tampered with) About the only way to catch the smugglers in the act would be to covertly track the robot to the rendezvous point.

      Hey man, anything that'll lower the price of cocai

  • just imagine a beowulf cluster of thes......
    on a more serious note, these sound pretty cool. i know what i'm asking for for my next birthday....

  • Why its cheap (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @05:00PM (#10743046) Homepage
    This robot was designed with a budget of only about $600 and seems to be the cheapest AUV around.

    Remember that with autonomous underwater vehicles you can throw away requirements for safety of the operator and equipment to keep the driver alive. Couple that with the philosiphy that you don't care how fast it goes as long as it does science and goes somewhere eventually, and you end up with a super cheap robot.

  • by buzban ( 227721 ) <buz@buzban . n et> on Saturday November 06, 2004 @05:01PM (#10743052) Homepage
    Some of the comments here are along the same lines I was thinking...does one have to clear this sort of thing with homeland security or the coast guard? I didn't see anything to that effect on the main Spray site.
    would be an interesting thing, though...looking at the shape and size of the thing, and considering that it makes a regular phone call via sattelite. Wow. that might be mistaken for something different altogether...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yes, but does it convert gentiles?
  • now who else read that as "Underwear Robots for Everyone"?
  • I wonder if you could attach a solar panel for when it surfaces, or a propeller that, instead of pushing it foward, recharges the battery as it spins, and send one of these things across the ocean, maybe with a little camera and light mounted on it to take pictures as it goes. That would be a lot of fun. Just set it in the ocean and see how long it can go.
    • Solar panel idea = good.
      Propeller = not good
      The propeller idea sounds a little bit like a perpetual motion machine, which we know it's thermodinamically incorrect.
      However, the original idea of the spray was somewhat resembling a "perpetual mobile". The initial design had in mind taking advantage of the temperature differences in the sea to produce the density change, and theoretically no energy source was needed in the glider, It will take it from the environment. Apparently that didn't quite work as
      • The solar panel wouldn't work that well, there are kilos of lithium batteries in there. You want to avoid being on the surface as much as possible, for the simple reason is, that's where other "stuff" is. the likelyhood of damage at the surface is FAR greater than at depth, save attack by the squid from 20,000 leagues. It's also hard enough to get a GPS fix because of the roughness of the seas, let alone try stay there long enough to get a recharge.
        • "save attack by the squid from 20,000 leagues"

          Considering the ocean is only 7 miles deep (or 2.3 leagues) at its deepest, I will assume you are referring to the book "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" when you say "from 20,000 leagues", since it would be quite impossible for a squid to come from 20,000 leagues deep when that distance is greater than the Earth's diameter.

          Just trying to be precise. This IS /., after all.
  • by dbretton ( 242493 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @05:10PM (#10743078) Homepage
    Ted Kennedy did this first quite some time ago [], but I believe his vehicle was still manned.

  • Can someone explain why the sac is on the back of the device? One would expect that if the volume is increased, the back wants to rise.

  • More Details (Score:5, Informative)

    by OctaneZ ( 73357 ) <ben-slashdot2@uma. l i t e c> on Saturday November 06, 2004 @05:48PM (#10743234) Journal
    This was actually our third attempt to make it from Nantucket to Bermuda, the first two launches unfortunately ran into technical problems very early into the mission.

    You can see the data it sent back over the IRIDIUM phone network every seven hours at these pages:
    WHOI Instument page about the SPRAY glider []
    Our real-time plots page []

    Make sure you check out the plot of velocities when it got caught in the gulf stream []

    Also particularly interesting are the Continuous Temperature plot []
    and the Continuous Salinity (salt content) profile. []

    And you can also view the path it took to Bermuda []

    We hope to launch it again early next year, possibly for a roundtrip around Bermuda.

  • by OctaneZ ( 73357 ) <ben-slashdot2@uma. l i t e c> on Saturday November 06, 2004 @05:59PM (#10743273) Journal
    There is actually an informative and readable press release [] about the glider in general and the mission it just finished.
  • by Mulletproof ( 513805 ) on Saturday November 06, 2004 @07:24PM (#10743679) Homepage Journal
    Underwater autonomous submarines? We're not talking about a large jump to underwater cruise missiles here. Or autonomous attack submarines like the Predator drone. WOuldn't be too hard to program a few to sneak into enemy waters and hunt down shipping at random or launch bulk cruise torpedo strike from hald way around the world to destroy enemy ports and warships.

    Frankly, I'm still waiting for the Catamaran Aircraft Carrier.
  • How does just pumping the mineral oil from the inside to the outside of the robot change buoyancy if the bladder is still attached?
  • all the robot stories... and not even on
  • Underwater robots for some, miniature American flags for everyone else.
  • The page quotes the cattery cost alone at $3000, so I am confused why the posting states it was built for around $600?

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI