Swiss drone takes the perilous plunge so divers don't have to
Searching for human bodies or other submerged items can be dangerous for divers due to factors such as strong currents, deep waters and low visibility. That's where the Tethys One underwater drone comes in, as it's designed to do the job itself.
Serving as both an AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) and an ROV (remotely operated vehicle), the device is manufactured by ETH Zurich spinoff company Tethys Robotics.
The startup takes its name from the Tethys character in Greek mythology, who was the wife of the god Oceanus and mother of the river gods. It is not associated with the Tethys AUV built by engineers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
On a linked control unit, users of the Tethys One start by programming in a stretch of river, lake or ocean for the vehicle to search. They then put the drone in the water, and leave it to autonomously search that area for objects of the type in question. And while the drone does have a camera, it also utilizes acoustic sensors and AI-based algorithms to "see" through murky water – just like submarines use sonar pings.
Once a target has been located, the operator is alerted so that they can take manual control of the drone. They're guided by real-time video from its spotlight-equipped camera – the footage is relayed up a hard-wired fiber optics cable, as radio signals don't travel well through the water.
If the item weighs no more than 40 kg (88 lb), the drone's robotic grasper can be used to grab it and carry it up to the surface. Should the item be heavier, its location can still be marked for retrieval by divers who won't have to go through the long and risky search process.
As far as basic specs go, the Tethys One weighs 30 kg (66 lb) when out of the water, has a top speed of 2 meters (6.6 ft) per second, a maximum depth rating of 300 meters (984 ft), and a fiber optics cable reach of up to 10 km (6.2 miles). One charge of its hot-swappable lithium battery should be good for four hours of use.
According to ETH Zurich, the drone has already been used in underwater search and rescue operations by several local authorities. Jonas Wüst, who co-founded Tethys Robotics along with Pragash Sivananthaguru, tells us that the Tethys One should be commercially available by the fourth quarter of this year.
You can see the device in action, in the video below.