Engineering Students Build Next-Generation Bathyscaphe

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering students at the University of Florida have built a fully automated underwater vehicle. Driven by five thrusters and controlled by complex electronics, the bathyscaphe can locate the source of sounds, investigate leaking pipes, and perform other civilian and military tasks that would be too dangerous for manned submergibles, especially during an emergency such as a hurricane .
A Russian submarine is trapped at the bottom of the sea, hurricanes crumble weak levees, and pipes leak. Most of these situations are too dangerous to send in a diver to investigate, but robots are becoming a reality. The military is using them on a daily basis, and now, the newest wave of robots may be diving into the ocean.

"You don't want to put somebody in the water. That's some of the worst, harshest environments. You can instead have a robot do it," says Eric Schwartz, an electrical and computer engineer at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

University of Florida computer, electrical and mechanical engineering students built the future of robotic underwater vehicles, called the SubjuGator. It's a submarine that's completely autonomous, working without any human involvement, and is controlled by 10 microprocessors and one computer. The key components are five thrusters and a highly involved electronics unit.

UF students tested it in a pool and trained it to locate underwater sounds, as well as breaks in pipelines or walls.

"We can go every other way. We can go forward. We can turn this way and that way. We can rotate about this axis..." Schwartz says. "It's programmed. It's basically trained you're trained. We say this is what a pipe looks like. This is what a pipe doesn't look like. This is what a box looks like."

From there, the SubjuGator can track down what it's looking for. And one day a sub like this could help to rescue trapped sailors, repair levees, and find oil leaks before any damage is done.

The applications for a sub like the subjugator are endless. According to Schwartz, they could help tap into oil in the ocean and even run undercover missions for the Navy.