Robotic Turtle Explores Shipwrecks
November 27, 2013

Turtle Robot Set To Explore Shipwrecks

Rebekah Eliason for – Your Universe Online

An exciting new technology will premiere at the Robot Safari in London. An underwater robot turtle called U-CAT is designed to descend the ocean depths and infiltrate the fascinating scene of a shipwreck.

U-CAT is an extremely maneuverable robot that utilizes similar locomotion principles to a sea turtle. Each of U-CAT’s four flippers are independently driven which is what enables such efficient maneuverability. Not only can the little fellow move forward and backward it can also swim up and down and turn on spot in all directions. This flexibility of movement is desirable in situations such as shipwrecks, where the areas inspected are very confined.

As U-CAT explores the underwater scenes, an onboard camera captures video footage that later can be used to reconstruct the shipwreck site. Taavi Salumae, the designer of the U-CAT concept and researcher in the Centre for Biorobotics, Tallinn University of Technology said, “U-CAT is specifically designed to meet the end-user requirements. Conventional underwater robots use propellers for locomotion. Fin propulsors of U-CAT can drive the robot in all directions without disturbing water and beating up silt from the bottom, which would decrease visibility inside the shipwreck.”

“The so called biomimetic robots, robots based on animals and plants, is an increasing trend in robotics where we try to overcome the technological bottlenecks by looking at alternative technical solutions provided by nature," explains Prof. Maarja Kruusmaa,  a head of the Centre for Biorobotics.

Most commonly, underwater robots are used in the oil and gas industry and in defense. Those types of robots are too cumbersome and too costly to use for exploration of shipwrecks. Currently, human divers investigate the wrecks but this a tremendously time consuming endeavor and frequently thelocations are too dangerous for anyone to explore.

The purpose of U-CAT is to offer an affordable substitute for human divers. The U-CAT turtle robot is part of the research project ARROWS which is funded by EU and designed to develop technology that assists underwater archaeologists. The new technology from the ARROWS projects will be tested in the Mediterranean Sea and Baltic Sea. Both of these areas are historically important but very environmentally different regions of Europe.

“In the ARROWS project, the U-CATs would work in cooperation with larger underwater robots and together with image recognition technologies for discovery, identification and reconstruction of underwater sites, would facilitate the work in all phases of an archaeological campaign”, says Dr. Sebastiano Tusa, an underwater archaeologist from Sicilian Regional Government.

The London Science Museum display will feature U-CAT along with interactive down-scaled models that operate in an aquarium. The Robot Safari is open for visitors from 28 November to 1 December.