Tiny Robotic Submarines Can Travel in Swarms

These ‘bots can also stay at sea for months with solar-powered hulls

Tiny Robotic Submarines Can Travel in Swarms Tiny Robotic Submarines Can Travel in Swarms

Uncategorized September 14, 2013 0

Submarine concept. illustration via youtube Tiny Robotic Submarines Can Travel in Swarms These ‘bots can also stay at sea for months with solar-powered hulls... Tiny Robotic Submarines Can Travel in Swarms
Submarine concept. illustration via youtube

Tiny Robotic Submarines Can Travel in Swarms

These ‘bots can also stay at sea for months with solar-powered hulls

Why have one unmanned ocean robot when you can have a swarm of them? That’s the impetus behind one submersible drone now in development. The manufacturers are also keeping the design simple, with a debt to the distance voyages of the sailing era.

Called the Submaran and developed by San Diego firm Ocean Aero, the eight-foot-long robot works as a tiny, long-range submarine. On the surface, the Submaran navigates with a sail and a swivel flap, while ballast tanks located on both ends of the robot’s main body keep the craft buoyant. An electro-optical and infrared camera is also attached to the top of the sail, giving the machine an effective periscope. The device is moved along underwater with rudders and twin jet drives, and can keep its ears out for audio contacts with a set of hydrophones.

The machine is still in development, but the company is expected to present it at the Blue Tech and Blue Economy Summit in San Diego next month. Submaran’s real advantage is that it’s wrapped in solar panels, meaning it can stay at sea for months at a time — while networked together with other Submarans in big swarms.

The whole machine weights about 125 pounds, with 35 pounds more for sensors. It can submerge to a depth of about 75 feet

It’s an open question who will buy the machines, or whether the company will focus more on contracting the ‘bots out for other firms that just want the data. Ocean Aero has also partnered with Dreamhmammer, a Santa Monica-based company which developed Ballista, a universal drone control system designed for the U.S. military.

There’s also a sense from the company’s marketing that the drone business is recognizing its public image has become too closely tied with military, particularly in the form of armed drones used for war.

We’re just the operating system, we have no control of that,” Nelson Paez, Dreamhammer’s CEO, told National Journal in August. “Think about it like Windows. You can use that to look at a porn site or a national security site. It’s not up to Windows how it’s used.”

The Submaran is positively cute — it doesn’t look menacing. But Ocean Aero is still marketing the machine for unarmed military and homeland security roles. That could be hunting for Chinese diesel submarines, underwater mines or pirates off the coast of Africa.

“Vital infrastructure like offshore oil platforms, pipelines, communication lines, as well as coastal nuclear power plants are high-risk terrorist targets and as a result increased water security is essential,” the company states on its Website.

It could even be used to hunt for illegal fish poachers. The civilian uses are marketed primarily around scientific research and oil and gas surveying operations.

The Submaran is also just one of the latest unmanned ocean-going drones from a list of robotics start-ups. Liquid Robotics, a Sunnyvale-based robotics firm, is pitching a water-powered submersible machine called the Wave Glider that can stay at sea for essentially forever. The Wave Glider actually speeds up in bad weather owing to its peculiar propulsion system.

But Ocean Aero also promises one advantage over the Wave Glider: the Submaran’s sail can boost the ‘bot’s speed up to six knots in good wind conditions, which is still slow but several times that of Wave Glider. In case the air happens to be dead-still, the machine can start up its backup electric motors — and keep sailing with the rest of the swarm.