Great robotics article this month in Spectrum. Senior editor Jean Kumagai and photo editor Randi Silberman traveled to a cactus-studded ranch in Mexico to find out how a research group is using an underwater robot to explore deep sinkholes.
The researchers, led by Bill Stone [above], best known for his daring cave diving expeditions, were field-testing DEPTHX, a 1.3â''metric-ton autonomous underwater machine that can draw 3D maps of its surroundings and also collect solid and liquid samples. (And as Kumagai notes in the article, the robot, encased in pebbly orange syntactic foam, "looks kind of like a giant tangerine.")
From the article:
Thereâ''s never been an aqueous robot quite like DEPTHX. Most autonomous underwater vehicles look the same, Stone says. â''Some have fat midsections, some are more elongated, but they pretty much all look like weird torpedoes.â''
â''Their design is dictated by their mission: traveling in straight lines at relatively high speed to survey the ocean floor or gather bathymetry data,â'' he continues. But for exploring uncharted territory, that shape can get you in trouble. You can back yourself into a tight spot where you canâ''t turn around.
DEPTHX, by contrast, is designed not for high speed but for complicated maneuvering in unfamiliar environments. Hence its shape: a squashed sphere with no protruding parts to catch on things.
Read the full article, titled "Swimming to Europa," to learn how DEPTHX performed in Mexico. Oh, and don't miss the intrepid Spectrum correspondents' account of their encounter with Toilet Frog.