Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sea-going Robots

I was causally readig up on robots and found a set of nice links:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050308134723.htm
does not talk in any detail about sea going robots, but has interesting news about MIT’s work on robotics.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/286345.stm
reports work in Japan and talks about how much more energy efficient fish are compared to boats in regard to swimming.

http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Wave_buoysdescribes how electricity can be generated using wave motion. However, they talk of big boys, oops big buoys, which can generate 250 KW of energy, when a shaft is moored to the ocean floor.

It is widely believed that life originated in water and then migrated to land. Similarly, I believe that significant robots would first succeed in the oceans. I do believe that water-borne robots with some limited form of “artificial intelligence” would soon be built. These are the grounds for my belief:

Navigation is easier, if you assume that your robot is too small to damage other craft in the ocean.

· Movement is easier.

· Autonomy and long life in the wild are made possible by three natural energy sources: wind, wave action, and sunlight.

· It is easy to set useful goals for ocean-going robots: get to such and such location, stay there and report weather information, oceanic measurements like wave activity. This justifies building them well.

Questions and Suggestions:

1. What prior work can you locate? What can you learn from it? Read up on digital buoys.

2. Who could you team up with?

3. Can you get academic credit for having fun building up this craft?

4. Read up about the basic theory of sailing. Can you visualize how the robot could deploy sails as necessary and be able to move?

5. Plan a secondary battery, which would have adequate working life. Plan a solar panel to provide electrical power to run a microprocessor onboard to give autonomous control, subject to a pre-loaded “script” which defines the purpose of the robot for the trip.

6. Can you design a way of generating electrical energy on board a small boat, utilizing wave action, to provide auxiliary power?

7. What should the craft look like? How stable would it be? Would it be sunk quickly in rough weather? Would you need to bail out water for preventing the craft sinking in such weather?

8. What materials would you use? What would be the design life of the craft? What are the challenges in keeping the craft intact and functioning?

9. What type of navigational instruments would you give it? GPS?

10. What type of communication capability would you build into the craft?

Separate the craft into sub-systems:

* The essential equipment to ensure autonomous behavior,
navigation & communication and measurements.

* The energy sources and secondary battery.

* The body that would enable floatation, waterproofing and structural rigidity.
Based on this, can you estimate the range of possible size and weight for this craft?

I will have more to say in the coming months on all this. Do contribute your comments and suggestions by posting them on this web page.

Srinivasan Ramani

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