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!

Photo: Frederic Osada and Teddy Seguin/DRASSM/Stanford University

Ocean One’s body has eight thrusters, four on each side. The floatation foams create a neutrally buoyant platform.

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How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
Blue

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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