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New long-range undersea robot goes the distance
Date:11/2/2010

he CANON experiment, it was programmed to follow a course that would allow it to map the vertical and horizontal extent of algal blooms beneath the ocean surface.

Such internal decision making becomes increasingly important when robots operate for weeks or months at a time. As Bellingham put it, "We found that controlling the vehicle from shore via satellite was just too cumbersome. By the time the vehicle had seen a promising patch, reported it to us, and we had sent the vehicle back toward the center of the patch, the patch had moved. Also, controlling the robot 24/7 was very tiring for the human operators. We suspected, and now we know, that the long-term success of such research depends on the vehicle being able to carry all this out on its own."

As with the energy efficiency software, having such sophisticated internal control software carries certain risks. As Bellingham put it, "You cannot predict exactly how the AUV will behavethat's the whole point. But you still want to make sure that whatever it decides to do, nothing bad is going to happen to the vehicle."

Bellingham hopes that this new AUV design will be small and inexpensive enough so that it can be used for a variety of ocean research and monitoring. "We did some research and found that the most used research vehicles were the smallest ones. But it's a real challenge to balance the factors of complexity, weight, and cost. Ultimately we'd like to Tethys to be a vehicle that is broadly accessible to scientistsa vehicle that can be launched from a small boat, at relatively low cost."

Even as Tethys was being put through its paces in October, MBARI engineers were busy building a second LRAUV. As Bellingham points out, "These vehicles are designed to run as part of a pack." For example, when tracking patches of algae, one LRAUV could be "parked" in the middle of the patch, to drift with the currents. A second LRAUV would circle around the outside of the patch to measure
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Contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett
kfb@mbari.org
831-775-1835
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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