The Future of Exploration

Lying one hundred meters at the bottom of the Mediterranean sea is the flagship of King Louis XIV, La Lune. A robot called OceanOne swims its maiden voyage toward the wreckage below, aided by a haptic feedback system with his human pilot, Oussama Khatib, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford, on board a boat far above the robot. Among the wreckage the robot spots a vase. As OceanOne hovers effortlessly above the vase, he reaches for the objects, feels the weight and contours of the artifact before returning it to the surface where Khatib and his team of deep-sea archaeologists can examine it.

It is Khatib hope that one day robots like OceanOne will be able to do more underwater tasks like this, as well as, performing tasks too dangerous for human divers.

“OceanOne will be your avatar,” Khatib said. “The intent here is to have a human diving virtually, to put the human out of harm’s way. Having a machine that has human characteristics that can project the human diver’s embodiment at depth is going to be amazing.”

The body is only five feet long from head to tail, it has eyes with stereoscopic vision that show the pilot exactly what the robot sees, and two fully articulated arms. Located below the torso are the batteries, computers and eight multi-directional thrusters.

The robot isn’t like most deep-sea explorers. Its hands are fitted with force sensors that are controlled by haptic feedback from a human pilot that is able to feel whether the robot is grasping something light or heavy and firm or delicate. Similar sensors are located throughout its body allowing the robot to detect any turbulence or currents. This enables the robot to adjust its body movement with quick-firing motors to maintain its position or to avoid a collision. OceanOne is also outfitted with both sensors and cameras to help navigate its environment. All this information is run through a smart algorithm which gives this robot amazing underwater humanistic abilities.

Khatib and his team hope to build more from this initial prototype robot, that may include additional sensors on its hands that are better suited for more intricate tasks.

The expedition’s success came from the collaboration and efforts of Michel L’Hour, the director of underwater archaeology research in France’s Ministry of Culture who conducted studies of the shipwreck, the many graduated and under graduate students that assisted with OceanOne and the expertise of Mark Cutkosky, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, for designing and building the robotic arms.

Watch the video below for more information about the construction and abilities of OceanOne. 

Source: Stanford; Featured Photo courtesy of Pixabay