In the past, the marine environment has been a field of study for scientists interested in the status of the sea to monitor the effect of increasing CO2 level and the related global warming risks that will reduce ice quantity in the polar regions and change the sea level. There will be significant consequences on many important human activities, like fishing, in the submarine environment which is indeed at risk, together with its biological sphere.
Many explorations under the sea are not allowed for vehicles driven by a mother ship because of the harshness of the environment or the remoteness of the location; for example, the case of sub-ice water environment analysis.
Could Robots contribute effectively to submarine challenging explorations?
Recently an answer to this question has been represented by the birth of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) (see Figure 1):
“SAUVIM (Semi Autonomous Underwater Vehicle for Intervention Mission) has been developed in order to address this challenging task. Today, it is one of the first underwater vehicles (if not the only one) capable of autonomous manipulation. With no physical link and with no human occupants, SAUVIM will permit intervention in dangerous areas, such as deep ocean, in missions to retrieve hazardous objects, or in classified areas. The key element in underwater intervention performed with SAUVIM is autonomous manipulation. This is a challenging technology milestone, which refers to the capability of a robot system that performs intervention tasks requiring physical contacts with unstructured environments without continuous human supervision.” (Source: EXPO21XX)
The images of submarine environment taken by an AUV (Source: ResearchGate)
The semi-autonomous vehicle, SAUVIM, needs to integrate electronic circuitry capable of resisting the high pressure of deep ocean water and, more in general, to operate in harsh environmental conditions in a safe and reliable way. The design and the accurate choice of the components are very important to ensure the effectiveness of this type of robot (see Figure 2).
The SAUVIM vehicle’s development consists in 5 major phases:” Adaptive, Intelligent Motion Planning; Automatic Object Ranging and Dimensioning; Intelligent Coordinated Motion/Force Control; Predictive Virtual Environment; and SAUVIM Design.” (Source: MASE, Inc.)
It is clear that the SAUVIM needs to have a huge energy autonomy; to realize this feature a new solution for long-life batteries, capable of operating in a submarine environment, has recently been introduced (see Figure 3):
“Steatite (Worcestershire, UK) has completed the first phase of a 24-month project to develop a pressure-tolerant lithium sulphur (Li-S) battery pack that can improve the endurance and speed of ‘deep-dive’ autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).” (Source: eeNews EUROPE)
The new Li-S battery pack fits perfectly with semiautonomous submarine vehicle technology (Source: Smart 2.0)
The advantages of Li-S batteries are evident both in terms of the use of low cost building materials and more important, energy storage capability that can improve battery duration (see Figure 4):
The graph of energy density for different types of batteries shows the advantages of the Li-S solution (Source: Innovation Toronto)
Electronics technology can provide a great contribution to increase the autonomy of the SAUVIM not only with the new Li-S batteries, but also with an accurate design of the circuitry as it is shown in Figure 5:
A topology of a modularized balancing system for a DC-DC converter that increases the EV (electric vehicle) autonomy by extending battery duration and lifecycle. (Source: mdpi.com)
Robotics is a promising technology in realizing exploration of harsh environments like the deepest ocean waters? Do you think it will be an effective solution?