Cuttlefish AUV pivots underwater to become a manipulator-armed ROV
When it comes to underwater robots, some tasks are easy to automate, while others are best handled by manual remote control. The Cuttlefish offers the best of both worlds, plus it cleverly changes orientation when using its two manipulator arms.
Developed by a team at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), the Cuttlefish AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) was created as part of the larger Mare-IT marine robotics project.
The battery-powered experimental craft measures 2.8 meters long (9.2 ft), weighs 1,200 kg (2,646 lb) on land, is capable of operating at depths of up to 1,500 m (4,921 ft), and can travel in any direction thanks to its eight electric thrusters. It also features three cameras (one in front, two on the underside), a set of LED spotlights, and two manipulator arms which fold into its underside when not in use.
The idea is that instead of having to be deployed from a surface vessel for each use, the Cuttlefish will be stored in a battery-charger-equipped underwater hangar located near a structure such as an offshore oil platform or wind turbine. For routine tasks such as inspection of that structure, it will autonomously cruise out of its hangar and look things over, staying in a horizontal orientation. It will be guided by its front-facing camera and AI-based algorithms running on its onboard computers.
For more complex tasks that require a human touch, however, a remotely located operator will be able to step in and take manual control of the Cuttlefish. They will communicate with it in real time via a fiber optic cable that runs up from the vehicle to a satellite communications buoy at the surface.
When entering ROV (remotely operated vehicle) mode, the Cuttlefish will pivot to hover in a vertical orientation. Its two arms, which were previously on its underside, will then extend out from what is now its front. The operator – wearing a Microsoft HoloLens VR headset – will control those arms via both voice commands and a physical controller, guided by a stereo video feed from the Cuttlefish's two (formerly) underside cameras.
There's currently no word on when the Cuttlefish AUV may enter commercial use. For now, though, it can be seen in action in the video below.
And for another example of a manipulator-arm-equipped hybrid AUV/ROV, check out Houston Mechatronics' Aquanaut.