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How Stanford Built a Humanoid Submarine Robot to Explore a 17th-Century Shipwreck

Exclusive photos take you through the first mission of Stanford’s diving robot

2 min read
Stanford's Ocean One is a hybrid between a humanoid robot and an underwater remotely operated vehicle.
Photo: Frederic Osada and Teddy Seguin/DRASSM/Stanford

Back in April, Stanford University professor Oussama Khatib led a team of researchers on an underwater archaeological expedition, 30 kilometers off the southern coast of France, to La Lune, King Louis XIV’s sunken 17th-century flagship. Rather than dive to the site of the wreck 100 meters below the surface, which is a very bad idea for almost everyone, Khatib’s team brought along a custom-made humanoid submarine robot called Ocean One.

In this month’s issue of IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine, the Stanford researchers describe in detail how they designed and built the robot, a hybrid between a humanoid and an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), and also how they managed to send it down to the resting place of La Lune, where it used its three-fingered hands to retrieve a vase.

Most ocean-ready ROVs are boxy little submarines that might have an arm on them if you’re lucky, but they’re not really designed for the kind of fine manipulation that underwater archaeology demands. You could send down a human diver instead, but once you get past about 40 meters, things start to get both complicated and dangerous. Ocean One’s humanoid design means that it’s easy and intuitive for a human to remotely perform delicate archeological tasks through a telepresence interface.

It’s an impressive and unique project (the full article is on IEEE Xplore) that demonstrates the possibilities of human-robot collaboration, and we agree with RAM editor-in-chief Bram Vanderborght when he says he’s “convinced that the complementary strengths of both humans and robots combined is the winning solution instead of simple human replacement.” We also agree with Bram that “the photos alone are brilliant,” so we teamed up with RAM to showcase some of them for you in the slideshow below. This is the beginning of a closer Spectrum-RAM collaboration so expect more slideshows, sneak peeks, and Q&As with authors next year. Enjoy!

Image: Stanford University

A human operator guiding the robot in an underwater bimanual task through a haptic-visual interface.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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