Yellow robot lost off coast of Newfoundland

June 16, 2013 - via Memorial University

Memorial University lost contact with an unmanned, underwater vehicle like this one on June 16. (CBC)

Memorial University of Newfoundland has lost a two-metre long, bright-yellow robot in the Atlantic Ocean.

The university’s Autonomous Ocean Systems Laboratory says it lost contact with the $200,000 unmanned, underwater vehicle in Conception Bay on Sunday. “Somewhere between Foxtrap and maybe as far north as Portugal Cove, maybe even a little bit beyond that,” said project manager Neil Riggs

The university is asking members of the public to keep an eye out for it because it’s possible the lost vehicle has washed up on a beach. Riggs said the robot, which is also known as a glider, is torpedo-shaped but there is no reason to fear it. It's a very distinctive thing and I would like to also say that in no way is it dangerous in any way … it is not at all a danger to anybody,” he said.

Riggs said the underwater device is collecting data on the earth’s geomagnetic field. “It’s been out for eight or nine days collecting very important data for research projects that we are doing here at the lab. This was something that was planned for quite a long time and the loss of data will be a setback for some of the research we are doing here, particularly for PhD students,” he said.

Researchers at MUN are trying to determine if the earth’s geomagnetic field can be used to navigate robots underwater. “It’s very difficult to navigate robots using an awful lot of expensive infrastructure. So we thought that if we could use something that is already there, like the earth’s magnetic field, we may be able to do it way more inexpensively and perhaps just as effectively,” said Riggs.

He believes the lost vehicle, which is not a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), may have had a power-source problem but Riggs said “garden-variety” leaks are the most common reason underwater robots are lost.
When it is operating correctly, the robot surfaces periodically and uses a satellite phone to send a status reports to the university laboratory verifying its location.

The university has had three other similar robots since 2006. It lost another one two years ago, but it was eventually retrieved.

MUN is asking people who believe they have seen the glider to call either (709) 864-8921 or (709) 746-2475

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