Former NASA Robotics Experts are Building an Transforming Deep Sea Explorer

Sunday, 13 May 2018 - 1:16PM
Technology
Robotics
Sunday, 13 May 2018 - 1:16PM
Former NASA Robotics Experts are Building an Transforming Deep Sea Explorer
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YouTube/Houston Mechatronics
At the beginning of the Month, some former NASA engineers who'd banded together to form a new company called Houston Mechatronics made an announcement: they were moving from outer space to underwater. 

With that announcement came our first look at "Aquanaut," a robotic transforming craft designed to swim around the deep sea in both an AI-piloted submarine mode (called the autonomous underwater vehicle or AUV mode) and then switch some parts around as it breaks out a pair of robotic arms and a head as it activates its second mode, the remotely operated vehicle or ROV mode.  

Essentially, it has both a vehicle and a robot mode, making it as close as we've gotten to an actual Autobot from Transformers. Or a Decepticon, but hopefully an Autobot. See the Aquanaut in action below:



The full Aquanaut is 2,315 pounds (1,050 kilograms) and is designed mostly for manual grunt work for the few industries that work deep underwater, like the military or oil industries, with some funding coming from the Defense Department and big oil. Which does make it sound more like a Decepticon in these early stages, although its design intentionally discouraged looking too much like the popular robots in disguise.

That's because a big part of Transformers' appeal is how many moving parts you can fold and move around on the toys, and that's not so efficient on a real robot. Aquanaut was designed to be sleek, with as few moving parts as possible when the robotic arms are coming out. According to Houston Mechatronics spokesperson Sean Halpin, who said the following to LiveScience

Opening quote
"When Aquanaut moves through the water, we want as little drag as possible to extend the maximum range of what the vehicle can do on battery power. By enclosing the limbs, we're able to operate the vehicle over great distances, up to 200 kilometers [124 miles]."
Closing quote


But otherwise, the idea is the same: quickly navigate the seas as a sleek submarine before switching into robot mode when it gets where it needs to go. 

It's the first transformer from these engineers, but it's certainly not the first robot. Many of the same people worked on Robonaut and Valkyrie back at NASA, which are fully humanoid robots designed for use in space travel, although they're not quite ready yet - Robonaut 2 recently had to leave the International Space Station and come back to Earth after being taken offline due to malfunctions.

Eventually, we're going to have a lot more robots in space and in the sea. Once they're ready, of course.

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