UUVs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles) have been around for decades, and the robotic submersibles are essential for all kinds of work. Most generally come in two forms: submarine-like AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles) and bulky, robot-like ROVs (Remotely-Operated Vehicles). ROVs are capable of undersea work thanks to their manipulator arms, but they aren’t hydrodynamic enough to move quickly or travel long distances like AUVs can. That’s why Houston Mechatronics Inc. (HMI) has designed a transforming UUV called Aquanaut.
The purpose of Aquanaut is to combine the best aspects of both AUVs and ROVs in order to create an undersea robot that can travel efficiently and still do work underwater with manipulators. The HMI team has achieved that by making Aquanaut transformable. In its cruising configuration, it resembles a sleek submarine. Then, when it reaches its destination, it can unfold itself to transform into humanoid robot with manipulators to get work done. Aquanaut is currently being tested in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas.
That laboratory has a massive 40 foot deep, 6.2 million gallon pool that is designed to simulate low-gravity for training astronauts. It’s also perfect for evaluating UUVs like Aquanaut. The robot has been in development for years, and these tests show that it can transform as intended underwater. Aquanaut is equipped with two manipulator arms and a whole host of sensors to help it navigate underwater. It’s primarily designed to perform inspections and maintenance on offshore oil and gas rig equipment on the sea floor. Robots are already being used for that purpose, but they rely on outdated technology. HMI’s hope is that Aquanaut will be able to dramatically reduce the costs associated with that kind of work, while also doing it better than current robots can.