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Robotics Earth

Long-Running Underwater Robot Lost At Sea 132

this_boat_is_real writes "Somewhere off the coast of Chile a pioneering underwater robot named Abe lies in a watery grave today. The Autonomous Benthic Explorer was one of the first truly independent research submersibles, being both unmanned and un-tethered to its launching ship. While on its 222nd research dive on Friday all contact with the craft was lost, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has announced."
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Long-Running Underwater Robot Lost At Sea

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  • I think we are well and truly fucked.

  • they where right! (Score:2, Informative)

    by jisou ( 1483699 )
    all the movies form the fifties about giant sea monsters being released by earthquakes are true! We must prepare are selves by watching hours of scifi original movies! Its also no coincidence, 222nd dive? that's 1/3 evil.
    • Actually, not all robot vehicles last like the Mars rovers. They are sensational robots. There are many robots that never return from their maiden voyage. ABE has done a lot of good. It will be good to know what did the robot in, but this is not a day to panic. I recently let go of my 21 year old Honda Accord. It had 222k miles on it. Closest it got to an earth quake was a fender bender. At least ABE has avoided the humiliation of being gutted and sold for parts or put on display in some museum where people

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by Sperbels ( 1008585 )
        I wonder where all the people are who were complaining about us littering the moon's "ecosystem" when NASA crashed that rocket into it? Surely this is a hundred times worse because it's now garbage in an actual ecosystem.
      • If there were two, then one could help the other.

        Mom, what is an Unidentified Submersible Object. Stay away from it ABE.


        You are in a small chamber.
        Examine chamber.
        There is hardware for hanging a curtain. A pipe is sticking out from the wall; it may be a microphone.

    • This movie is from the 80s... The Abyss []. It even had a ship the Benthic Explorer, no doubt what this one was named after.

      • Re:they where right! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @02:28AM (#31470280)

        That, or the fact that 'benthic' is an adjective referring to the bottom of the ocean. []

      • The Abyss is famous for its animation of the water tentacle. Way ahead of its time. Younger readers who have not seen it should check it out.
        • It was a good film, but I don't think it was particularly popular. Not enough explosions, probably.

          A pal had the special edition including "The Making Of..." which is worth a watch too. Apparently the female star sulked throughout the whole production.

          • by Tesen ( 858022 )

            ME? I believe it was only after they pounded on her chest for hours to do the drowning revivial scene. She left the set because after hours of filming the last take, the camera ran out of tape.

          • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

            by HangingChad ( 677530 )

            Apparently the female star sulked throughout the whole production.

            Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio sulked through almost every production she was ever in. Maybe one of the reasons she's only got 27 entries on her reel and everything since 2004 has been TV and hasn't been in a decent movie since 2000.

            Be difficult talent long enough and word gets around. She was pretty hot as Carmen in Color of Money, that was just three years before The Abyss.

        • But watch the directors cut so that the ending actually makes some sense.
          • by Hungus ( 585181 )

            Really? I thought the directors cut was worse than the theatrical release.

            • Much better. Made sense.

              Anyone here notice the similarities between The Abyss and Avatar?

              Nice Aliens
              Nasty, psychotic military guy
              Great special effects
              A plot discernible in 45 seconds
              Great special effects
              Typical love story
              Sparkly, glowing aliens
              Great special effects.

              Just sayin. (Actually liked them both).
              • I don't think they were technically aliens in The Abyss.
                • "Does anybody think this is a Russian water tentacle?"

                  Supposedly they came from outer space and settled in the deep trench because it was more hospitable. (I read the book).
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by snart ( 1767112 )
          Better yet, see the director's cut. The added 20 or so minutes completely alter the film. It goes from a really good flick a nearly great flick. And Ed Harris is a total babe.
    • We must prepare are selves

      Sorry, but I need to you're innate.

    • by raddan ( 519638 ) *
      I'm not worried about that. We should be concerned for our children's children, when a gigantic sea monster calling itself A'e comes up from the deep, wanting to "join with its creator".
  • floaties? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Garganus ( 890454 )
    And nobody on the sub engineering team thought, "hey, maybe we should add a ballast balloon that floats it to the surface if it loses all contact with the surface." Wow.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      the shrapnel created by a glass sphere implosion at two tons per square inch was enough to shred armored steel antennas and hydrophones. what chance do you think a flimsy balloon would have you fucking ignorant idiot ?

      • Re:floaties? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @02:26AM (#31470264)

        Touché, vulgar anonymous poster.

        The people that design these things are smart. Smarter than the average poster here in their field. If Joe Armchairengineer can think it up, I'm pretty damn confident that the engineers behind ABE thought of it too.

        In fact, from the WHOI release, there's this nugget:

        ABE was equipped with several independent systems to bring it back to the surface at the end of a dive or should a fault occur. The Melville remained in the vicinity to see if ABE had resurfaced, at first searching for ABE’s strobe lights in the darkness. Researchers tried to establish radio contact with ABE in the event it had surfaced, but attempts turned up nothing.

        • by b4upoo ( 166390 )

          Wherever it got stuck things may change. The critter might pop up years from now. Some little current change, an earthquake, or a bump from a fish and it may well be back in action or maybe it'll get caught in a shrimp net.

        • Come on, we all know that's what decision making committees are for.

          Who needs an emergency ascent system. We can just have it navigate up if it loses contact. It would just add weight. We've built it perfectly, it won't fail.

          Then again, we don't know the real cause of why it lost contact. Did it lose power? Did it get swallowed by a whale? Did it get hung up in some human debris and the antennas knocked off? Did it get hit by some random ship at sea?

    • Learn to ballast, idiot. It would be dependent on the strength of the pumps and ballast tanks. Look at the pic. There aren't any ballast mechanisms or even elevation control surfaces other than two vertical propellers. Think of ABE as an undersea helicopter(or autogyro [] to be precise) rather than a submarine.

      Also, it's hull markings indicate NCC-1701 B. Badass.
    • Re:floaties? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @07:05AM (#31471194)
      It's been a while since I worked with the WHOI folks so my memory is a bit hazy. But generally these underwater submersibles come with:
      • A descent weight, used to make the craft negatively buoyant for the initial descent, then dropped to leave it neutrally buoyant.
      • An ascent weight, dropped at the end of the mission to make the neutrally buoyant craft positively buoyant.
      • A bladder which can be pumped with oil from a reservoir tank to fine-tune buoyancy.

      Air doesn't work because of the enormous pressure involved. A 3000 psi scuba tank could only inflate a balloon down to about 2000 meters. Below that, the water pressure is greater than that inside the tank, and opening the valve would result in water forcing the balloon into the tank, rather than air inflating the balloon. A 10000 psi high pressure tank would work at 5000 meters, but would only result in about a 30% increase in volume, meaning you'd need a very big tank to be able to raise the entire craft in a catastrophic failure. Furthermore, the air would expand as the craft rose, risking rupturing the balloon. That's why the buoyancy control uses an oil bladder - oil is relatively incompressible.

      Dropping the ascent weight helps raise the craft at the end of a mission. But usually they're relatively lightweight so you can attach them manually. The 17-inch glass spheres [] typically used to house equipment provides over 50 pounds of buoyancy. The failure of one of these spheres at a depth of 3000 meters (~4500 psi) would release (4500 psi) * 4/3 * pi * (8.5 inches)^3 = 1.3 MJ of energy. A stick of dynamite is about 2.1 MJ, so losing one sphere is pretty much guaranteed to cause all the other spheres to fail. If the remainder of the craft somehow survived all that energy release, the loss in buoyancy would overwhelm what buoyancy you'd get by dropping the ascent weight.

      • You wrote:

        > Furthermore, the air would expand as the craft rose, risking rupturing the balloon.

        This is why such a balloon would need a _valve_ or a hole at the bottom, to allow excess gas to escape. It's precisely the same reason that SCUBA and deep sea divers doing a "free ascent" need to exhale quite a lot on their way up, lest they try to hold the expanding gas in their lungs and do something really destructive to their delicate alveoli and even give themselves serious embolisms.

        I am curious about the

        • by Mashdar ( 876825 )
          Great. Next time I am designing an autonomous intelligent agent for 400m dives, I will include a balloon for ballasting. No examples from SCUBA equipment are relevant at the depths involved. Even with industrial dives using special gas mixes (low N2 & O2, high helium) unenclosed divers don't go anywhere near this depth. The point remains that the pressures involved make air unusable. Oh, and valves are a great point of failure in a high pressure environment.
          • Oh, dear. I'm not saying a balloon is a great idea, I'm merely saying that rupturing the balloon is not such a big risk if you leave an escape route for excess gas, such as a hole at the bottom of the balloon. And any valve should be at the _bottom_ of the balloon, so catastrophic failures are not a big issue.

            Nor am I saying that a typical gas container would address this issue: I was simply pointing out one _small_ issue that is not as bad as one might think from the earlier post.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Solandri ( 704621 )

          This is why such a balloon would need a _valve_ or a hole at the bottom, to allow excess gas to escape. It's precisely the same reason that SCUBA and deep sea divers doing a "free ascent" need to exhale quite a lot on their way up, lest they try to hold the expanding gas in their lungs and do something really destructive to their delicate alveoli and even give themselves serious embolisms.

          Right. I wasn't saying the balloon idea was impossible, just explaining why it's inferior to oil and static pressure s

      • Thanks for that great explanation. Do you think that this is the reason why military subs don't go deep, because otherwise they would have to use an unwieldy oil bladder based bouyancy control system? I assume that if they did use such a system, when they flooded the ballast tanks in a crash dive a lot of oil would have to be "dumped" overboard; expensive, not easily replenished and leaves a big oil slick that would reveal your location (as opposed to a lot of quickly dispersing bubbles like in the movies

        • by u38cg ( 607297 )
          More because it would be a huge engineering investment for absolutely no military value. Having your submarine wandering around the ocean floor is pretty useless. I think most modern subs have maximum normal operating depths of five hundred metres or so.
        • by deroby ( 568773 )

          Wouldn't they be able to 'fly' out of such situations ? "Simply put the nose upwards and set the throttle to Full Ahead" so to speak ...

          Agreed, once you lose engines at such depth you're hosed big time(*), but then again I would assume there is quite some redundancy in said vehicles.

          Just thinking about this, my only training have been "Hunt for the Red October" and the "688 Attack sub" manual ... the latter being very educational btw.

          (*: I'm so funny =)

        • Thanks for that great explanation. Do you think that this is the reason why military subs don't go deep, because otherwise they would have to use an unwieldy oil bladder based bouyancy control system?

          Pretty much any military sub able to operate for long times underwater is nuclear powered. With that as an energy source, you don't really need to worry about fine-tuning your buoyancy. You can just propel yourself up or down. These small research subs are battery-powered, so you don't want to waste energy

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        A bladder which can be pumped with oil from a reservoir tank to fine-tune buoyancy.

        Interesting. What displaces the oil when its pumped out of the reservoir?

  • by MoFoQ ( 584566 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @02:08AM (#31470196)

    what? no skynet tag?

    bet the robot became self-aware and decided "to hell with this....I'm making a break for it!"

    Now, it's probably in league with those sharks with laser beams.

  • Who'd have thunk it would be an unmanned submersible that would first become self-aware?

    /Oh, please let it be nuclear powered.
    • And it's first and last thought was: Hm, I feel an interesting sensation all over me, pressing on me from all sides at once. I think I'll call it.... pressure. I wonder if it will be friends with me...<CRACK>
  • by DemonBeaver ( 1485573 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @02:18AM (#31470234)
    Abe is now sleeping with the fishes.
  • by gront ( 594175 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @02:31AM (#31470292)
    Om Nom Nom Nom... tasty robot snack.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      There's been sounds from a very large biological creature recorded around the area .. it's 4 noisier than a blue whale and is known as The Bloop (
  • by avatar139 ( 918375 ) * on Sunday March 14, 2010 @03:05AM (#31470414)
    ...Charles Widmore must have been monitoring ABE when it somehow found the Island. I expect we'll see a fake press release showing ABE's resting place any time now.
  • by G-Man ( 79561 )

    According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Underwater Robots, it's finally free!

  • by iplayfast ( 166447 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @03:14AM (#31470450)

    Isn't this the episode where Gilligan finds a mysterious robot in the water and the professor tries to use it to communicate to the outside world, and the skipper hits Gilligan in the head with his hat?

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @03:24AM (#31470496)
    After such an illustrious career shouldn't they use this as the basis of their next design only adding to it additional features that have been proven on more recent designs from other teams? I mean making all these one-off designs like all the underwater robots seem to be has to be the least efficient way to go from both a cash perspective as well as a getting science done perspective.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The replacement for ABE is Sentry.

      The cost of running support ships limits the number of subs used and the amount of science which is done.

    • They don't make very many of them. They're often made with the best technology available at the time. They're usually made with a specific set of tasks in mind, then later modified. Abe was around 15 years old.
  • I was going to ask if they suspected that I had hacked the OS and made it meet me at sea so I could steal it ( as a joke ), and then
    I realized that this would make a good drug smuggling bot and really with all seriousness, isn't it possible that foul play could be at work and I'm guessing the device is worth at least a couple bucks to somebody who wants to get under the radar, so to speak.
    From TFA, it seems also that it could be asleep. Maybe it just overslept.
  • by Stephen Tennant ( 936097 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @03:56AM (#31470578) Journal
    Activate tearducts and proceed with robot mourning routine!
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Activate tearducts and proceed with robot mourning routine!

      Translation: Interrupt OxD.

  • So long... (Score:4, Funny)

    by idji ( 984038 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:28AM (#31470670)
    and thanks for all the fish!
  • An implosion, ... would have caused all of ABE’s other spheres to implode

    It's just the same as the way as a chain reaction at the Super Kamiokande neutrino observatory destroyed thousands of its photo-multiplier tubes []

  • A cron job didn't run.

    (Posted at 03:47 GMT-6 14 March 2010)
  • Hmmmm....Maybe it just ran away....

  • ...something about "Should a man keep the sweat of his brow..."
  • With the increasing capability of these things being able to explore more and more of the ocean's depths, they might be stumbling upon things certain people/governments don't want them too.

    How 'bout the wreck of the Thresher (U.S. Nuclear powered submarine), or the Soviet nuclear sub that the Glomar Challenger tried to bring up (under cover as a geo-physics expedition run by Howard Hughes). I believe the Soviet sub had nuclear weapons on board (either as torpedos or missiles, maybe mines).

    I think there may

    • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:30AM (#31471476)
      And maybe, just maybe, one of the glass flotation spheres had a flaw in it and it imploded, like they said.
      • Of course it's most likely there was a (natural) accident. But if another is sent down and it mysteriously "disappears" in the same spot... let the conspiracy theories fly!

      • If one of the glass spheres implodes at depth, then can you hear it?

        Does it run Linux?

    • Just happened to finish reading a good book about the history of deep sea exploration "Eternal Darkness", by Robert Ballard. He has been involved in this field since the 1970's & was former director at Woods Hole.

      Anyway, the US Navy hired these guys to find the Thresher, and they did. He also discovered the Titanic. Great book, highly recommended.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well there are many sad to see it go but it did a lot of great research. WHOI has a few more autonomous underwater robots - check out BTW since the design of ABE was shaped like the Enterprise from Star Trek it had a registration number of NCC-1701B on its side - WHOI engineers are Trekkies too. My company is a videography contractor for WHOI.

  • I couldn't help to notice the similarities in this robot's design to the Starship Enterprise. As I looked closer it appears that somebody else had the same thought - the serial number on the robot is "NCC-1701B"!
  • It became self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time.
  • Could be a robot amusement park down there. With blackjack. And hookers.
  • Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn
    • No, I suspect it was actually the other lot. That's what happens when you breach the terms of the Third Benthic Treaty...

  • In 2003, I was on a small team using a similar WHOI system called REMUS to take surveys of ports and waterways, looking for mines. We had been training with the system, mainly in Southern California and when Iraq started up, they decided that they wanted to try the new technology there. We did, and it was successful. [] In the course of our training, we managed to get the things stuck, beached and lost several times despite a system that would take it to
  • ... a local fishing net. If the Chinese figured it had aphrodisiac powers, they've probably eaten it by now.

  • Something like this would be VERY useful to a nation like China to grab on the way up. Hopefully, their was active sonor going around to make sure that nobody did that.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears