Most all of the current technology we use — smartphones, TVs, and other devices are manufactured using rare earth metals (or elements), such as cerium, scandium, and neodymium. They are called “rare” for a reason, but not because they can be found almost everywhere, but rather they are dispersed over large areas instead of being concentrated in deposits like gold or silver. This means mining those metals is a nightmare, which can wreak havoc on the environment.
More mining operations have been eying the seafloor for operations, as vast swaths of the sea floor are rich in rare earth metals. Those mining companies have proposed scraping (or dredging) and vacuuming the dark expanse, but scientists have stated that doing so could permanently damage fragile ocean ecosystems. Brooklyn-based Pliant Energy Systems thinks they have come up with a solution that would allow ocean mining with minimal impact on the environment by utilizing their Velox autonomous robot.
PES designed Velox using an onboard CPU to drive a series of actuators for both side fins, which undulate and move large quantities of water at low velocities. This enables the robot to move at a rapid pace without producing a lot of water disturbance, thus having minimal impact on organisms in or on seabed sediments.
Velox is currently only capable of navigating the depths of a swimming pool or ocean surf zones. Still, the engineers at Pliant Energy Systems are currently developing a next-gen version called C-Ray, which will likely be utilized to survey the ocean floor for potential hazards, and is funded by the US Navy, who is currently backing the program. It will be interesting to see how the robot evolves and how it will be utilized for ocean mining in the coming years.
[h/t: IEEE Spectrum]