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Robo Hand Repairs and Explores in Deep Sea

Sep 17, 2014 03:11 PM EDT
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SeeGrip
A robotic hand has been designed to literally feel its way through murky ocean depths, exploring difficult-to-access regions and repairing potentially disastrous problems.
(Photo : David Schikora/DFKI GmbH Robotics Innovation Center)

A robotic hand has been designed to literally feel its way through murky ocean depths, exploring difficult-to-access regions and repairing potentially disastrous problems.

A study recently published in the Journal of Field Robotics details how exactly this handy three-fingered hand, called the SeeGrip manipulator, is supposed to work.

According to the four robotics experts from Bremen, Germany that are behind the project, very little underwater work has been done using tactile sensory technology despite the fact that the approach is very ideal for a wide range of difficult underwater scenarios. This, they say, is largely due to the fact that there is currently a limited availability of sensor tech suited for getting wet.

To address this, "we have developed a deep-sea-capable tactile sensing system, with high spatial and force resolutions, which has made underwater haptic exploration possible for the first time," the authors proudly announced. (Scroll to read on...)

The SeeGrip is coated in a thin and flexible insulated skin that still allows for sensitive tactile detection.
(Photo : Johannes Lemburg, DFKI GmbH) The SeeGrip is coated in a thin and flexible insulated skin that still allows for sensitive tactile detection. (learn more here)

According to the study, the team not only created a waterproof set of tactile sensors, but were able to successfully build these sensors into a large robotic hand that can be attached to an undersea vehicle. The sensors are able to track changes in pressure as the vehicle descends into the deep ocean, allowing it to correct for what would otherwise interfere with tactile sensing. The sensors can also help a computer program visualize what the hand is holding, using texture and movement of an object to create a rough digital outline of its form.

The team reportedly tested the hand at a pressure equivalent to about four miles under water, and showed that the hand was still about 90 percent accurate at identifying a mug, a toy shark, and a chess piece.

Dennis Schweers of Nuytco Research, which develops underwater exploration equipment in Canada, told New Scientist that he's very impressed with this team's work.

"They've developed a technology that's basically pressure-proof," he said.

Such technology could someday be used not only for blind exploration of the deep ocean, but could also help facilitate repairs of deep-sea oil and gas wells.

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