Underwater turtle robots to get a brain of their own

Singapore researchers have developed a self-charging sea robot that mimics the natural movements of a turtle to perform tasks too complex and hazardous for humans.

The biometric turtle, designed by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS), should be able to detect nuclear wastes underwater or dive to deeper depths vertically – much like a real turtle. It is also able to self-charge, further reducing the need for it to return to a basestation.

“Our turtle robot does not use a ballast system, which is commonly used in underwater robots for diving or sinking functions,” said Professor Sanjib Kumar Panda, researcher on the project.

“Without this ballast system it is much smaller and lighter, enabling it to carry bigger payloads so that it can perform more complicated tasks such as surveillance, water-quality monitoring in Singapore reservoirs or energy harvesting for long endurance.

“Being able to do a dynamic dive or sinking vertically means that it can also enter vertical tunnels or pipes in the seabed with very small diameters.”

Although turtle robots are regarded as the most flexible in the underwater robotic world, according to NUS researchers the turtle robot designed by the team can go about determinedly performing what it is set out to do. It can react to exigencies and obstacles such as turning sharp corners with small radius, without losing speed.

The team of researchers at the NUS Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, led by Prof Panda, is currently working on developing solutions to technical challenges with other sea robots mimicking natural systems.

“What we plan to do in the near future is to develop robot fish with muscles which can undulate the way real fish do,” he said.

“For this, we need to develop special actuators. We also aim to develop central pattern generators, which will enable the fish to respond to external stimuli so that it can make crucial decisions to complete a critical mission.”

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