How a Humanoid Robot Is Helping Scientists Explore Shipwrecks

Science

A robot created at Standford University in the United States is diving down to shipwrecks and sunken planes and allowing its operators to feel like they’re underwater explorers too. 

The robot known as OceanOneK has humanoid top half, with eyes that have a 3D vision, capturing the underwater world in full colour. It resembles a human diver from the front, with arms and hands, and its back has computers and eight multidirectional thrusters that help it carefully manoeuvre the sites of fragile sunken ships. 

According to a press release, when an operator at the ocean’s surface uses control to direct OceanOneK, the robot’s haptic – or touch-based – feedback system and stereoscopic vision produce incredibly realistic sensations that equalled what he would have experienced were he down below, rather than above onboard the control ship. In simpler words, the operator of the humanoid can experience the depths of the ocean without the dangers or immense underwater pressure. 

Stanford University roboticist Oussama Khatib and his students teamed up with deep-sea archaeologists and began sending the humanoid on dives in September last year. In July, the team also finished another underwater expedition. Mr Khatib said that during the dive, he felt the resistance of the water and could also discern the shapes and proximity of the historic relic around him.

As per the press note, so far, OceanOneK has explored a sunken Beechcraft Baron F-GDPV plane, Italian steamship Le Francesco Crispi, a second-century Roman ship off Corsica, a World War II P-38 Lightning aircraft and a submarine called Le Protee. 

“You are moving very close to this amazing structure and something incredible happens when you touch it: You actually feel it,” said Mr Khatib, adding, “I’d never experienced anything like that in my life. I can say I’m the one who touched the Crispi at 500 m. And I did – I touched it, I felt it.”

Further, the team revealed that the mission of the robot to these depths had two purposes: one, to explore places no one has gone before, and second to show that human touch, vision and interactivity can be brought to these sites far-removed from where people can operate. 

“This is the first time that a robot has been capable of going to such a depth, interacting with the environment, and permitting the human operator to feel that environment,” said Mr Khatib. “It has been an incredible journey,” he added. 

OceanOne made its debut in 2016. Back then, it explored King Louis XIV’s wrecked flagship La Lune, which sits 328 feet below the Mediterranean. The 1664 shipwreck remained untouched by humans. 

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