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Researchers equip robot sub with sensory system inspired by blind fish
Date:3/29/2010

lity is also essential, because if something goes wrong, an underwater robot can quickly be lost for ever.

"An underwater robot is as much on its own as a vehicle on Mars," says electrical engineer Stefan Sosnowski. He works in the Department of Robotics headed by Professor Sandra Hirche and is responsible for the design of the underwater craft. His colleague, biophysicist Dr. Jan-Moritz Franosch, aided by a group of students, has developed an artificial lateral line for the robot, enabling "Snookie" to detect obstacles and movements in the water a hand's breadth in front of its nose and on either side. This artificial organ measures changes in pressure and flow around the robot not with conventional dynamic indicators, which would be far too large and imprecise, but with thermistors. When a change in flow velocity occurs, this immediately causes a change in the heat dispersed through a heated wire. This in turn can be measured electronically by the sensor elements with great speed, and in a minimum of space. At intervals of a tenth of a second and using only a tiny amount of electrical energy, the sensors register pressure fluctuations of less than one percent over an area of just a few square millimeters.

The two young scientists look on "Snookie" as more than just an experiment. They expect autonomous underwater robots to find a broad range of applications -- from investigating shipwrecks to carrying out deep-sea search missions, for example to locate the flight recorder after air disasters. More mundanely, they could also be used to inspect tanks and sewer pipes. Prof. van Hemmen also expects that robots with even more sensitive lateral line systems will have considerable potential uses on land, as it is of course equally possible to detect variations in pressure and flow in air, as well as water. Another external project is working on this subject. Man-made lateral lines might for example offer a cheaper alternative to the laser scann
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Contact: Markus Bernards
bernards@zv.tum.de
49-892-892-2562
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Source:Eurekalert

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