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Inexspensive Turtle-like Robot Designed to Explore Shipwrecks More Safely [VIDEO]

Nov 27, 2013 12:22 PM EST
Researchers have developed a robotic turtle designed to help explore shipwrecks more effectively and inexpensively. Researchers Asko Ristolainen and Taavi Salumäe looking the U-CAT swimming in an aquarium at Centre for Biorobotics.
(Photo : Image courtesy of Tallinn University of Technology)

Researchers have developed a robotic turtle designed to help explore shipwrecks more effectively and inexpensively.

Called U-CAT, the robot is driven by four flippers that allow it to swim backward and forward, up and down and turn on the spot in an all directions. Such maneuverability allows U-CAT to explore small, confined spaces, according to its designers.

Besides being dangerous, diving is a highly expensive and time consuming method of exploring sites such as shipwrecks. And while underwater robots have increased in popularity among the oil and gas industry, such machines are bulky and costly.

"U-CAT is specifically designed to meet the end-user requirements," Taavi Salumäe, the designer of the U-CAT concept and researcher in Center for Biorobotics, Tallinn University of Technology, said in a statement. "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."

Maarja Kruusmaa, head of the Centre for Biorobotics, told Discovery News that even if the robot were to become stuck or lost, "it won't bankrupt the archeologist."

U-Cat carries with it an onboard camera that records video footage scientists can use to reconstruct the underwater site. Presented at the Robot Safari in London Science Museum, the machine is emblematic of a greater movement within robotics designed around the natural world.

"The so called biomimetic robots, robots based on animals and plants, is an increasing trend in robotics where we try to overcome the technological bottlenecks by looking at alternative technical solutions provided by nature," Kruusmaa said.

For example, Harvard engineers recently revealed a robot that takes after a jelly-fish, its four wings opening up like an umbrella and squirting air downwards. Another recent development is that of a flying robot that bounces off surfaces in an insect-like manner.

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