We've featured a fair number of underwater drones over the past few years, and they're pretty much all remotely-controlled by their shore-based users. Denmark's Supportive Robotics, however, is developing one that's a bit different. Known as Allec, it can be piloted via remote control, but it can also perform its own autonomous missions.
In remote-control mode, Allec is hooked up to a Wi-Fi-equipped buoy via a 30-m (98-ft) electrical cable. That buoy is towed along at the surface, wirelessly sending and receiving signals to and from the user. Utilizing an iOS/Android app on their mobile device, the user controls Allec in real time, and views live video from an onboard 1080p/30fps video camera.
In autonomous mode, the buoy doesn't need to be used. Instead, Allec follows a preprogrammed "flight path," much like many aerial drones are able to do. Whereas they use GPS, though, Allec goes with a dead reckoning system – this means that it uses a compass and an inertial measurement unit (an accelerometer/gyroscope/magnetometer combo) to keep track of how far it goes, and in what directions. It also has a pressure sensor that lets it track how deep it goes, along with a water flow meter for tracking its speed.
A collision avoidance system keeps it from running into things while it's down there, while an AI-based object recognition system lets it identify (and record footage of) 10 types of targets such as fish, seaweed, and divers. This information can then be displayed on a digital map of the area, letting users know what's present in what locations.
If users wish, they can also leave the Wi-Fi buoy hooked up while Allec is performing its missions. In this way, they'll be able to view the video as it's being recorded, and they can take over manual control whenever they want.
Some of Allec's other features include an LED headlight that automatically comes on in low-light conditions, a 50-m (164-ft) maximum dive depth, and a battery life of over 1.5 hours. It also features interchangeable batteries, so a fully-charged one can be swapped in on the spot.
Supportive Robotics is currently raising production funds for Allec, on Kickstarter. A pledge of DKK 4,095 (about US$649) is required to get one. Delivery is estimated for next October, if all goes according to plans.
You can see it in action, in the following video.
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