Stanford’s Robotic Mermaid

Stanford created "Robotic Mermaid" to help with Deep Sea Exploration Missions.

Remotely Operated Vehicles and Artificial intelligent walk side by side these days. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are used to conduct undersea tasks, which are considered unsafe for humans, for many years. While, these machines are very useful to tackle projects like oil rigging repairs, vehicles that lack the refinement and agility required to handle delicate missions like monitoring the coral reefs.  The traditional boxy shape also created difficulties for the robots to penetrate the tiny areas without damaging the surrounding flora. Now it’s time for the Stanford universities to grab the appreciations for the latest creature which is the high-end version mermaid robot, named as OceanOne.

The idea behind creating this humanoid robot was conceptualized three years ago by the King Abdullah University of science and Technology (KAUST) researchers in Saudi Arabia. They believe that such robots would help monitor coral reefs and under ocean activities in the Red Sea. To elaborate and bring the vision to life the Associate professor Khaled Salama turned to his colleagues at California’s Stanford University for further help.

Professor Oussama Khatib, and the Director of Stanford’s Robotics Lab along with his team of graduate and undergraduate students were fascinated by the idea of creating an underwater robot and instantly agreed. While it took a few years to get the first prototype of OceanOne, and it was released in April 2016, is everything Salama and his team had hoped for, and more.

OceanOne was about five feet from head to tail, and it has stereoscopic eyes, which helps to allow the pilot to view deep down views into the ocean without entering the ocean. It has the fins which provide ample storage space to fit computers, batteries, and even 8 multi-directional thrusters to help and keep the robot stable in confused waters.

Unlike other traditional ROV’s; the OceanOne’s electronics are waterproofed with oil rather than covering the inside parts with a rigid case. The OceanOne is designed simply to prevent the electronics from buckling under the water pressure and enable the robot mermaid to reach depths of up to 2,000 meters without collapsing.

Smart algorithms enable the humanoid robot to avoid collisions under the water and help from the pilot, even it can use its hands to swim when it is stuck in a tight spot; when it cannot avoid a crash then the robot can alleviate the impact by stretching out its arm. Since it can also communicate with human pilots through hand-gestures, it can also be a useful diving companion when needed.

However, when the waters are very uneven, the robot can turn on the thrusters which are stored in its fin to stabilize itself. Sensors are affixed to the robot’s arms and wrists which will help enable the pilot to touch the undersea objects and determine them clearly on the weight and texture. It was very crucial to decide on the amount of force that is required to lift the object without damaging it. There were additional sensors fixed around the robotic mermaid’s body to keep track on the currents and ocean’s turbulence.

Although, the OceanOne is originally created to monitor the coral reefs, but the first mission was a tad more exciting. In April, the robotic mermaid was first sent to investigate the wreckage of King Louis XIV’s flagship, La Lune, which sank off the coast of France in 1664; but the robotic mermaid did not dissatisfy. Later with the help of Professor Khatib guidance, OceanOne made its way 100-meters beneath the surface of the Mediterranean, and it carefully picked up a preserved grapefruit-sized vase and placed it in the recovery basket.

The OceanOne, however, stood up to all the expectations and high-fived all the archaeologists and engineers who had accompanied it on this significant journey. With the achievement of the first under sea’s mission, it will be all exciting to see what coming in the future.