AI News, Stanford's Humanoid Diving Robot Takes on Undersea Archaeology and Coral Reefs

Stanford's Humanoid Diving Robot Takes on Undersea Archaeology and Coral Reefs

If you were in the audience for Oussama Khatib’s IROS keynote in Hamburg last year, you may remember him talking about this crazy thing: We, of course, cornered Oussama immediately afterwards, because humanoid robotic submarine what?!

Christian Voolstra, assistant professor of marine science at KAUST’s Red Sea Research Center, explained where the idea came from in an interview last year: Currently people use a so-called ROV (remote operated vehicle), which is a little submarine with two robotic arms and very limited dexterity.

Rather than waterproofing the electronics to keep air in, they’re immersed in oil instead, which doesn’t compress, giving the robot a maximum depth of 2000 meters (!).

With current underwater vehicles, “you spent the majority of time keeping the robot stable,” Dr.Voolstra told IEEE Spectrum, “rather than focusing on the research task.” The robot’s most prominent feature is its pair of compliant, series-elastic arms, which apparently represent the very last project that Meka Robotics delivered before it was absorbed by Google.

It’s functional for things like oil rigs, but around delicate coral or underwater archaeological sites, it’s not something that you can trust to not destructively smash into whatever you’re trying into examine.

One hundred meters may not sound like a lot, but the SCUBA expert we consulted told us thatyou’re unlikely to find a human down there without an enormous amount of training and lots of special equipment to keep them from dying.

OceanOne is still a prototype, and Dr.Voolstra from KAUST explained that “our plans are to conduct a number of experiments that highlight in particular the bimanual dexterity and sensitivity of the robot,showcasing its ability to conduct research.” Once the robot has proved itself,Voolstra hopes to use it to studymesophotic coral reefs, which live too deep for humans to explore with SCUBA gear but get passed over in“deep ocean” research.

These reefs are very poorly understood, but as coral reef cover around the world shrinks, they may offer a unique coralrefuge, saysVoolstra: What we plan in particular is in situ physiological studies of coral reefs at depth.

For instance, in situ fluorometric measurements of different coral species over depth gradients will provide information on low-light adaptation and production potential of mesophotic coral specimens.

Maiden voyage of Stanford's humanoid robotic diver recovers treasures from King Louis XIV's wrecked flagship

Oussama Khatib held his breath as he swam through the wreck of La Lune, 100 meters below the Mediterranean.

The flagship of King Louis XIV sank here in 1664, 20 miles off the southern coast of France, and no human had touched the ruins – or the countless treasures and artifacts the ship once carried – in the centuries since.

This entire time Khatib had been sitting comfortably in a boat, using a set of joysticks to control OceanOne, a humanoid diving robot outfitted with human vision, haptic force feedback and an artificial brain – in essence, a virtual diver.

Based on its astonishing success, Khatib hopes that the robot will one day take on highly skilled underwater tasks too dangerous for human divers, as well as open up a whole new realm of ocean exploration.

No existing robotic submarine can dive with the skill and care of a human diver, so OceanOne was conceived and built from the ground up, a successful marriage of robotics, artificial intelligence and haptic feedback systems.

Roughly five feet long from end to end, its torso features a head with stereoscopic vision that shows the pilot exactly what the robot sees, and two fully articulated arms.

Each fully articulated wrist is fitted with force sensors that relay haptic feedback to the pilot’s controls, so the human can feel whether the robot is grasping something firm and heavy, or light and delicate.

(Eventually, each finger will be covered with tactile sensors.) The ‘bot’s brain also reads the data and makes sure that its hands keep a firm grip on objects, but that they don’t damage things by squeezing too tightly.

The humanoid form also means that when OceanOne dives alongside actual humans, its pilot can communicate through hand gestures during complex tasks or scientific experiments.

Every aspect of the robot’s design is meant to allow it to take on tasks that are either dangerous – deep-water mining, oil-rig maintenance or underwater disaster situations like the Fukushima Daiichi power plant – or simply beyond the physical limits of human divers.

Ocean One Lands on the Moon

The flagship of King Louis XIV had sunk here, 20 miles off the southern coast of France, in 1664, and no human had explored its ruins – or the countless treasures and artifacts the ship once carried – in the centuries since it sank.

The expedition to La Lune was OceanOne's maiden voyage, and based on its astonishing success, it's hoped that the robot will one day take on highly-skilled underwater tasks too dangerous for human divers, as well as open up a whole new realm of ocean exploration.

Stanford Robotics

Exploring and monitoring these oceanic resources, however, has remained expensive and challenging because it requires human divers who can only explore these environments during short periods of time and within limited depths.

While underwater vehicles have proven to be very useful for safely exploring oceans at greater depths, they lack human dexterity, which is necessary for performing fine manipulation tasks like collecting reef samples.

Furthermore, existing underwater robots are large and cumbersome, with mechanical characteristics that make them extremely difficult to operate in closely confined fragile spaces or turbulent fluid environments.

To help marine biologists safely explore the Red Sea’s fragile and previously inaccessible underwater environment, our team designs a semi-autonomous underwater robotic explorer.

The new vehicle will visually explore and image the sea, collect samples, perform manipulation tasks using flexible fingers, and conduct various physical measurements in multiple marine ecosystems.

The robot will combine two force-controlled lightweight arms that will be remotely operated using an intuitive two-handed haptic interface providing force-feedback guidance to the operator while the posture of the vehicle body is controlled autonomously.

Several experiments were conducted with a custom-made pressure pressure chamber to explore various ways of sealing and to investigate their impact on motor performance, joint friction and torque sensing performance.

We adopted a top-down approach, relying on our custom-designed simulation tools and previous research on whole-body control framework to place components and determine the required sensor suite for the robot.

This design methodology banks of the concept of 'design for control' where we start from all the required task specifications of the robot and move upstream to the specification of the arms' actuators, vehicle's thrusters and body structure.

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