These Robots Are Investigating the Ocean’s Secrets

Source: The Atlantic/Erica Cirino

People have been exploring the Earth since ancient times—traversing deserts, climbing mountains, and trekking through forests. But there is one ecological realm that hasn’t yet been well explored: the oceans. To date, just 5 percent of Earth’s oceans have been seen by human eyes or by human-controlled robots.

That’s quickly changing thanks to advancements in robotic technologies. In particular, a new class of self-controlled robots that continually adapt to their surroundings is opening the door to undersea discovery.  These autonomous, “curious” machines can efficiently search for specific undersea features such as marine organisms and landscapes, but they are also programmed to keep an eye out for other interesting things that may unexpectedly pop up.

Curious robots—which can be virtually any size or shape—use sensors and cameras to guide their movements. The sensors take sonar, depth, temperature, salinity, and other readings, while the cameras constantly send pictures of what they’re seeing in compressed, low-resolution form to human operators. If an image shows something different than the feature a robot was programmed to explore, the operator can give the robot the okay to go over and check out in greater detail.

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