Diving shipwrecks can be dangerous work. As their name implies, these deep sea curiosities are underwater disaster zones that could trap an unwary diver. Robotic vehicles can help, but most are too big to explore the nooks and crannies and others get their power via a tether to the mothership and that limits their reach.
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A new robot called U-CAT is small enough to fit into the tiny spaces of shipwrecks and it lacks a tether, which would otherwise hamper its movement. The robot imitates a turtle with its four mechanical “flippers” that allow it to hover, turn in place and move forward and backward.
“Conventional underwater robots use propellers for locomotion. Fin propulsors of U-CAT can drive the robot in all directions without disturbing water and beating up silt from the bottom, which would decrease visibility inside the shipwreck”, said Taavi Salumäe, designer of the U-CAT and researcher in the Centre for Biorobotics at the Tallinn University of Technology, in a press release.
U-CAT carries a camera that can take footage of a wreck, allowing researchers to reconstruct the inside and target areas that look more interesting for follow-up later.
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Being able to get around -- and not reduce visibility -- is key in a shipwreck dive, as is getting into small spaces. Besides that, U-CAT is relatively cheap. Maarja Kruusmaa, head of the Centre for Biorobotics, told Discovery News that smart as the robot is, it might still get stuck or lost. “This way it won’t bankrupt the archeologist,” she said.
The little robot will first be tested in the Baltic sea, and then get a big test in the Mediterranean, where it will work with bigger robots and archeologists on the ARROWS project, an EU initiative to develop robots for use in underwater archaeology.