Although it's tempting to refer to vehicle in the photo above as an ROV – a Remote-Operated Vehicle – the whole idea behind it is that it doesn't require an operator. Created by a team at Japan's Okayama University, the MOS/AUV (Move on Sensing/Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) is designed to find its own way along the bottom of the sea or a lake, performing various tasks as it does so.
The craft's Move on Sensing system combines 3D stereoscopic computer vision with conventional sonar technology. According to the university's Prof. Mamoru Minami, this combination allows it to "search, track and pinpoint" underwater objects within an accuracy of 5 mm – although he hopes to reduce that figure to 0.5 mm.
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The MOS/UAV can even follow objects that are moving at up to 10 mm/second, as might be the case if they were being carried by currents.
It is hoped that ultimately the vehicle could be used for applications such as removing radioactive material from underwater locations, exploring for minerals, maintaining telecommunications cables, and environmental monitoring. The MOS system could also conceivably be applied to spacecraft.
In pool tests so far, it has successfully located and approached a target consisting of a 7 cm (2.8 inch)-wide ring, intended to simulate an underwater recharging base for the vehicle. It did so by tracking "optical induction markers" on the target, then using algorithms to match those markers up with points on 3D computer models of the target.
Needless to say, its real-world targets typically won't be equipped with such markers.
One of its pool exercises can be seen in the video below.
Source: Okayama University