New AI underwater vehicles could hold key to final frontier


(China Daily) As bipedal and predominantly land-based animals, human beings, while having an affinity with water, do not really count lakes and seas as part of our realm.



To us, the exploration of land comes much more naturally, to the point where we have actually mapped more of the solid surface of the moon than of our own oceans.


Using technology to help reduce this disparity, as well as increase the effectiveness of our activities in marine environments is of interest to many research companies looking for the next leap in progression.


The area of underwater AI robotics is fast becoming a field in which China is a world specialist.


Chinese research company Tianjin Deepinfar Ocean Technology earlier this month secured $17 million in B+ series funding, fast tracking its way onto a successful IPO on Shanghai’s STAR board.


Devices of the future could revolutionize numerous fields in which access and maintenance is difficult, in areas such as water rescue, hydropower, aquaculture, oil production, and underwater engineering.


Companies such as Tianjin Deepinfar, alongside others such as Edgetech in the United States and Rovco in the United Kingdom, produce what are called AUVs, or Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. These are robotic devices that are equipped with underwater propulsion systems complete with onboard computing abilities to navigate obstacles independently. Every area, from the military to science, has seen the advent of such machines, and their phenotypes vary wildly, just as much as their marine biological sea creature counterparts.


Robots designed for exploration, search and rescue, or underwater engineering all take on different shapes, ranging from torpedo-shaped self-driving submarines, to deep sea floor crawlers that look like huge slugs.


The advance of sophisticated computing power and improved power storage has increased the possibilities for this strange and other-worldly area of robotics.


Beyond traditional research, the future of AUV applications is also exciting. The flair that AUVs have for studying lakes and deep sea beds has meant that they are also of interest to those involved in the exploration of space. Sensors of all sorts that can measure elements and compounds on our planet can also be used for other predominantly liquid bodies in the solar system, such as some of the Jovian moons. They are also capable of detecting the presence of microscopic life, opening up the potential for future exciting discoveries in the solar system.


Hobbyist AUVs may also become a mainstream market in the next few years as the technology progresses. Just as drone hobbyists remained a fringe minority interest for a few years before exploding into commercial popularity, so too may AUVs.


Competitions such as Robosub in the US offer games in which AUV operators compete against each other to explore and accomplish marine objectives. Hobbyists may fit their AUVs with sonar, lights, cameras, and whatever they deem necessary.


A future leisure industry for AUVs, when the technology and economies of scale exist to make them truly accessible, may open up a huge market, considering the vast number of people around the world living near a body of water.


Soon, advances in this field of underwater research may not only allow us to explore more of our ocean for the benefit of geologists, the oil industry, or the military. They may offer us an insight into the ponds, lakes, and streams that hide secrets in our communities, opening up a huge leisure industry in the process. They could also hold the potential for us to explore worlds beyond our own, which also share liquid water. The possibility for AUVs literally stretches from our backyards to outer space.


Source: By Barry He | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-07-30 05:08 


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