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Drones for the deep

A pumpkin-shaped drone is as close as we’re going to get to a Halloween story A pumpkin-shaped drone is as close as we’re going to get to a Halloween story Hydroswarm
30 Oct
2015
A start-up is developing  ‘EVE’, a sea drone to map and explore the oceans

Much of the sea is unknown to us. Famously, we know more about the surface of the moon than the floor of the ocean. As part of a growing interest in underwater drones, a start-up company called Hydroswarm is developing a robot to map the seafloor in greater detail.

The EVE robot – short for Ellipsoidal Vehicle for Exploration – is not unlike ‘Eve’, the heroine of Pixar’s film Wall-E. However, instead of searching for greenery on a barren Earth, this pumpkin-shaped bot is made for searching the sea. Made up of one part steering mechanism and one part ultrasound sensor, the autonomous drone could be more useful than existing remotely-operated robots as ‘they are less complex, but smart in terms of sensing,’ according to Sampriti Bhattacharyya, mechanical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and EVE’s creator.

Still in its development stage, the drone can only dive 250 metres below the surface. However, Bhattacharyya has ambitions towards using this kind of technology to create a deeper ‘Google Maps’ of the sea. ‘The whole point of Hydroswarm is to provide a cheap and scalable method of mapping the ocean,’ she says. ‘EVE can be used as a single drone, or as a bunch of them working together to map large areas.’ Deployed en masse, the drones use algorithms to communicate with each other in a network. Plus, they don’t get lost. ‘They have a homing mechanism and are recovered at the end of their missions,’ she says.

Sensors can be added to the drones to enhance their uses. ‘Think of situations like finding a lost airplane or checking the pollution from the BP oil spill,’ says Bhattacharyya. Fitted with acoustic sensors, in theory, multiple bots could be used to seek a lost aeroplane’s black box. Similarly, she says, pH sensors could be used to monitor the water around coral reefs, as well as quickly check the extent of underwater pollution after an oil spill.

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