You would balk at getting an iPad wet, but a tablet computer has now been designed to work deep under the sea – not to allow divers to check e-mail, but so that they can communicate with underwater robots working in hard-to-reach or dangerous locations, such as the inside of shipwrecks or caves in coral reefs, wrote New Scientist Sept. 21:
Professor Michael Jenkin and graduate student Bart Verzijlenberg of York’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering have created an underwater casing for tablet computers so that divers can control underwater robots. Motion sensors detect when the waterproofed computer is tilted, and instruct the robot to move in the same direction [Footage of the robot and diver working underwater is viewable here].
“What makes what we are doing unique is the idea of deploying the robot and the diver as part of a team to solve various problems,” says Jenkin. “The diver operator can remain outside dangerous environments and operate the vehicle, while the vehicle itself extends the diver’s capabilities.”
The vehicle in question is called Aqua, a small submersible robot that swims using paddle legs and carries cameras and position sensors that relay information back to the screen of the tablet computer via an optical fibre.
The team is now working on signals to help robot and tablet communicate with each other even without the fibre. “At the moment in autonomous operation the robot only communicates back to the tablet through flashing lights on the vehicle. We want to look at having the robot perform certain motions – essentially, have the robot ‘dance’, and use this dance to communicate from the robot to the tablet,” says Jenkin.
Jenkin and Verzijlenberg are just two of the researchers based in York's state-of-the-art Sherman Health Science Research Centre, which officially opened last week. Jenkin leads the Canadian Centre for Field Robotics, which is based on the building's main level. The AQUA project is funded in part by the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin