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Earth Robotics Hardware

The First Robot To Cross the Atlantic Ocean Underwater 156

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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  • Just a thought..... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:07PM (#30507006)

    the 7-foot-9-inch submersible robot from the stormy Atlantic off western Spain filled with cocaine .

    In a decade we think it will be commonplace to have roving fleets of these gliders making transoceanic trips filled with cocaine .

    At a price of $100,000 to $150,000 apiece (which is likely to drop once large-scale production begins), fleets of aquatic gliders outfitted with varying arrays of physical, chemical, acoustical and optical sensors promise to increase the store of data considerably at reasonable cost. The U.S. Navy has just ordered 150 to detect rogue aquatic gliders filled with cocaine .

    Yeah... It's probably a cynical prediction, but how many of you think it would become true? :)

  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:35PM (#30507222)

    the 7-foot-9-inch submersible robot from the stormy Atlantic off western Spain filled with cocaine .

    I've been surprised we don't see autonomous drone aircraft being used for this purpose. It just isn't that hard.

    And of course, it's also a good way to get nuclear weapons over cities before detonating them, which is really where you want them to be for maximum damage, which is caused by the firestorm they start, not blast or radiation damage (just ask the good people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima if you disagree.)

    Despite the mystique of piloted vehicles, there is nothing very difficult, algorithmically, about running a sub or plane autonomously. The only reason we haven't done more of it yet is because we've only had sufficiently compact, powerful, computers for a decade or so. But I expect in the next decade we'll see a whole lot more of it, making nonsense of traditional notions of borders.

    Stealth technologies are just too simple for vehicles that have no mission profile except to get from point A to point B. They can fly as low as they want and as slow as they want, unlike stealth fighters and bombers. So anyone who claims these things will be detectable is taking a whole lot on faith, whereas their existence is a matter of fact. How the technological fight between detection and penetration capabilities turns out will have a large effect on the future viability of nation-states.

    Unlike idiotic movies (Terminator Salvation and later films in the Matrix trilogy come to mind) the real risk from autonomous machines is not that they will go rogue and take over the world, but that stupid human cowards will use them to randomly destroy stuff at a sufficiently high rate to endanger the large-scale structures that sustain what we are wont to call civilization.

  • Yawn (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:36PM (#30507232)

    Wake me when an android can pilot a sailboat across the ocean.

  • What makes a robot? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:48PM (#30507300)

    what makes it a robot: how autonomous does a robot have to be?

    These guys flew a radio-controlled model plane across the Atlantic several years ago:


  • Oceanographer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bakes ( 87194 ) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:26PM (#30507526) Journal

    Rutgers University oceanographer Scott Glenn ...

    Interesting co-incidence - actor Scott Glenn played submarine captain Bart Mancuso in "The Hunt for Red October'.

  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:32PM (#30507552)

    Maybe we could call them buzzbombs or cruise missiles or intercontinental ballistic missiles or something.

    Buzzbombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles don't make much use of computational intelligence.

    Cruise missiles are similar to what I'm talking about, although the Wikipedia entry on them makes the useful point that they are distinct from UAVs because the warhead is integrated into the missile, they are always destroyed by successful completion of their mission, and they are never used for recon. That aside, 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 so long as one deviates from the integrated-systems design of cruise missiles, and avoids the dumb-trajectory aspects of buzz-bombs and ICBMs. In fact, so long as one builds autonomous general-purpose UAVs the cost is very low. Buying and modifying a typical light sport aircraft with a carrying capacity of a few hundred kg and a range of a thousand kilometers would run less than $100k, based on used aircraft prices.

    That's a lot of cocaine, and a plane or two like that loaded with C4 and ball-bearings dropping into a random American city every couple of nights would create a huge amount of panic, which would probably result in the US invading Peru or someplace, just for the look of the thing. Admittedly the range would have to be increased to be able to reach the US from Saudia Arabia, which is where attacks like this would obviously originate, but that's a relatively minor technical problem given current materials and engine technologies.

    These things are a terrorist's dream, and we've known since the '80's we were headed this way. Donald Kingsbury's novel "The Moon Goddess and the Son" describes the possibility, and it was published in '85 or so. Ergo, it should come as no surprise to anyone when the first use of UAVs by non-governmental criminal organizations comes to light.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:50PM (#30507652) Homepage

    Wave Gliders [liquidr.com], from Liquid Robotics, have already made autonomous trips from Hawaii to California. They sent one up the coast from California to Alaska and back. They could probably do the Atlantic, but they're based in Hawaii, so they tend to work the Pacific Ocean.

    Those are cute little machines. There are two parts; the floater, which looks like a surfboard with solar panels, and the glider, which is tethered to the floater by a cable of about 10 meters. The gilder has elevator-like flaps, which are spring-loaded to return to center. As wave action moves the floater up, the pull on the cable pulls the glider upward too, which forces the flaps down. The water pushing against the flaps pushes the glider forward, towing the floater. On down waves, the glider sinks further, the flaps are pushed up, and in that position, the falling glider then pulls the floater forward.

    Wave Gliders have only one powered moving part, the rudder. That's on the glider. Up top, on the floater, there's a GPS, a compass, an Iridium transceiver, and a microcontroller. This is enough to keep the Wave Glider on course. It normally stays within 50m of the desired track, and averages about 1 knot; more in storms, less on calm days. Storms don't bother it too much; the glider pulls the floater through big waves, like a surfboard.

    It only takes a few watts to run the electronics and keep the Wave Glider on course. The solar panels and a rechargeable battery provide that. So there's nothing to run out of. It just keeps going.

  • by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:05PM (#30507724)

    This is predated by at 6 years by the robotic model airplane built by Maynard Hill, et. al. http://www.barnardmicrosystems.com/L4E_atlantic_crossing_II.htm [barnardmicrosystems.com]. Details are similar to this case, GPS, autonomous guidance, etc.


  • Re:Drugs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:53PM (#30507938)

    drone subs have already been used to transport drugs for DECADES though nothing as far as a cross atlantic trip. what I am wondering is if the Navy will start using drone subs since UAVs have been so successful.

  • Re:Drugs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @11:29PM (#30508696)

    The war on drugs is a multifaceted failure.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:15AM (#30508934)

    I would have to bet that the smarter drug dealers are already violating our airspace with UAV's. The current efforts by the USA for the People's Patriotic Drug War at the border will only exacerbate the rapid adoption of such techniques.

    I bet in three-to-four years, there will be all kinds of bizarre regulations on what kinds of R/C airplane stuff you can buy. I also foresee new FAA regs for R/C aircraft that consciously limits their size, endurance, and speed. Probably will need a operating license for anything above a very low threshold (I'm thinking some absurd limit, like more than a kilo GTOW). And getting that license will involve either using an active transmitter or radar-boosting reflector on the vehicle, and some signature that will allow Smokey to track the vehicle back to you.

  • by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @04:33AM (#30509992)
    Why does it have to be shipped between two different people? I could ship it to myself - load the drone up in Colombia, fly to the USA, wait for it to arrive, pick it up myself. After all, the drone is going to take quite a bit longer than a commercial flight.

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