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Ocean Robots Upgraded After Logging 300,000 Miles

Unknown Lamer posted about a year and a half ago | from the checking-out-the-weather dept.

Robotics 21

kkleiner writes "Liquid Robotics first generation of wave gliders have successfully navigated from the U.S. to Australia, surviving numerous hurricanes. Now, the next generation of autonomous robots have been outfitted with thrusters that supplement the wave-energy harvesting technology that they use to move. They also are equipped with a weather station and sensors to collect even more data on the ocean. Currently, over 100 missions are in operation around the world."

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First wave! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43412695)

Posted by Autonomous Coward!

Obama's hitlist grows (3, Funny)

Comboman (895500) | about a year and a half ago | (#43412943)

The White House will not confirm whether these unmanned underwater drones are being used to take out Atlantian terrorists.

Re:Obama's hitlist grows (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year and a half ago | (#43412995)

The Atlantean government, as usual, could not be reached for comment.

Re:Obama's hitlist grows (4, Funny)

CannonballHead (842625) | about a year and a half ago | (#43413225)

They're too busy worrying about their financials. All their mortgages are under water.

Re:Obama's hitlist grows (1)

BarbambiaKirgudu (2578457) | about a year and a half ago | (#43416223)

And so are other liquid assets.

They just had a new round of funding (2)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year and a half ago | (#43412965) []

The Silicon Valley-based company yesterday [March 19, 2013] raised $45 million in a series E round to grow the companyâ(TM)s sales and services around what it calls âoehigh-value ocean data servicesâ in research, defense, and oil and gas exploration.

They seem to have a really good thing going and I'm glad the recession hasn't crippled their business.

Jupiterfoundation - spinoff research (4, Informative)

sackbut (1922510) | about a year and a half ago | (#43413011)

They also do some very interesting projects with the Waveriders and with cetacean (whale) research at the You can listen live to whale sounds coming from Hawaii [] . The Waveridrers were actually a spinoff from the original Jupiter Foundation.

International Smuggling (2)

stevegee58 (1179505) | about a year and a half ago | (#43413037)

Imagine being able to deliver guns, drugs and other contraband using these things. Just beach it at pre-arranged GPS coordinates on some remote shore and the recipient can pick it up.

Re:International Smuggling (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | about a year and a half ago | (#43413335)

Or candy. It could be a big sea-piñata, and we could break it open on a reef someplace.

Re:International Smuggling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43415071)

We could finally get Kinder Surprise Eggs in the US!

A lesson for space robotics (4, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#43413115)

A private company receives [] somewhere less than $90 million in funding (half which was received last month) and manages to create a new type of cheap sea-based platform and currently has over a hundred of them active.

In contrast, the typical space probe is a hideously expensive, one-off design made by people who have no interest in reducing the cost of the platform. In the past, I've advocated developing space probes in batches or iterative generations instead. This is an example of why.

There are some obvious differences. Space is much more expensive to access at $5-10k per kg just to reach low Earth orbit. While these guys can just drive up to a beach. Space also is a harsher environment. It doesn't have full time exposure to sea water, but it does have hard radiation, temperature extremes, and heat dissipation issues.

Even so, this is how you do things economically. Making multiple copies of a probe design means that you spread out R&D costs over more probes - R&D is a large cost currently of space probes. You also get "learning curve" effects where the marginal cost of manufacturing, operation, and management of probes goes down as you make and deploy more of them. You "learn" (or rather exploit various economies of scale for these processes) how to do this better.

End result is more probes and more work done for the same amount of money spent.

Re: A lesson for space robotics (1, Interesting)

mi (197448) | about a year and a half ago | (#43413291)

Well, the difference is that such sea transports are meant to be practically usable fairly soon, whereas the space exploration is not expected to pay for itself in a foreseeable future -- it exists only, because enough taxpayers view space-travel as interesting.

This leads me, a Libertarian, to think, NASA (except for its military parts) ought to be financed not by taxes (which are collected at gunpoint), but by donations. This will make it responsible not to Congressmen seeking to "fund jobs" in their districts, but to donors genuinely interested in space-explorations.

It would not only be fair (some taxpayers may prefer spending on protein research, or, indeed, sea-travel over spaceships), but also more efficient.

Re: A lesson for space robotics (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#43416925)

Or we, being libertarian, could consider private side approaches. While space-based private exploration and science is in its infancy, it's worth noting that it is done.

For example, the Planetary Society has several projects [] cooking. I don't agree with the ideological baggage that comes attached (they're uncritical boosters of NASA's unmanned science program), but at least they practice what they preach. One could do worse than send them some money.

There's also a large number of non profits developing launch prototypes all over the world. I think that's a bit oversaturated, but I do volunteer on occasion for JP Aerospace [] , who does high altitude balloons and the occasional balloon-launched rocket.

And of course, there are actual start ups to invest in. I have an non-business interest in Altius Space Machines [] because I'm acquainted with the founder, Jon Goff who is one of the more insightful bloggers [] out there on space development topics.

Re:A lesson for space robotics (2)

necro81 (917438) | about a year and a half ago | (#43413949)

There are several additional aspects of space design that make it difficult and expensive compared to these ocean drones:
  1. * Launch costs are so high that you need to make sure, damn sure, that your space probe works reliably. You don't want to a faulty $2 component to ruin a $100 million launch. Also, because launch costs are so high, you want your space probe to last for a looong time in orbit. So you test everything like mad, which costs money, and chose high-reliability components that have also been tested to death and are themselves very expensive, etc. With ocean drones, if there's a problem, you have only lost the hardware itself, not the tremendous ancillary costs as well. In all likelihood, you can probably hop on a boat and go retrieve it for a partial recovery.
  2. * A launch is a rather traumatic event for any piece of equipment. To keep it from shaking itself apart, everything needs to be bolted down. Lots of satellites have parts that are folded up for launch and automagically deployed in orbit. But you also need to be able to release the payload in controlled, automated, and hands-off fashion after launch. Doing this properly requires careful design and lots more testing. An ocean drone, by contrast, can be handled as gently as you please, assembled and set up on site, and deployed by hand.
  3. * Most launches have multiple payloads from multiple people as a way to share cost. As a result, unless you have demonstrated through testing that your payload isn't going to screw another customer's payload up, you can't get a launch slot. For an ocean drone, even if you are sharing a boat to get to your launch site, nothing you do is likely to screw up anyone else's mission. In many cases launching can be as simple as driving down to the pier.
  4. * Some space missions do not require attitude control, orbital control, and other maneuverability. Most space missions do need that, however, and that is really tough and expensive, because you need propellants under pressure, mixing and combustion, all of which need to work in zero-g after being left idle and thermally cycled, sometimes for months or years between actuations. On the ocean, attitude control is just a matter of gravity and buoyancy, and maneuverability can be accomplished with a DC motor.

This doesn't mean that we can't get to cheaper costs through economies of scale, standardization, and learning curve effects as you suggest. But until launch costs are much much lower, the costs associated with long life, testing, and reliability will keep space a very expensive business.

Re:A lesson for space robotics (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#43416449)

It's worth noting that many of those costs go down when you reuse a proven vehicle. If you've demonstrated via the last three launches that your vehicle plays well with others, you don't need to dump a bunch of money to prove it again.

That's not the only fixed cost you mention. Many of these very expensive costs can be spread out over more vehicles.

Launch costs are another area where costs can be reduced. Launch frequency is an economy of scale for any working launch vehicle ever made (just due to the considerable fixed costs of R&D and launch infrastructure). The approach I just mentioned generates as a side benefit a demand for higher launch frequency and thus, would reduce the of cost per launch since it launches more probes in the same time. NASA would probably get a piece of that back in lower launch prices.

Finally, a last thing I forgot to mention is the considerable time value and reliability of reusing existing designs. For example, the two Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) were launched in 2003 and landed six months later at the beginning of 2004. The follow on mission the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landed on Mars in 2012, eight years later. That delay was due mostly to the development of the MSL and its more advanced landing systems.

However, if they had stuck with the MERs and merely launched of them, they could have had another batch on Mars in 2006. My estimate is that they could have had at least six MERs for the price of the MSL and they could have had them all deployed on Mars by 2006 or perhaps 2008. And be four years ahead of where we are now with MSL.

There is a little bit of trouble here. They would have had to shave some weight to get them on Delta IIs (the trajectories in 2006 and 2008 aren't as good in terms of delta v as the 2003 trajectory was). And they probably would want better landing accuracy comparable to what the MSL had.

But that's development costs spread over six probes rather than over one really expensive probe. And since the design was tested twice by the previous MERs, it would be more reliable than the MSL was.

Re:A lesson for space robotics (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#43416553)

As an aside, my approach would have generated 6 additional launches by 2008 for the Delta II that already had 34 launches between 2004 and 2008.

Re:A lesson for space robotics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43414985)

Launch windows, the constant development of technology and mission focused designs make the serial production difficult. Modularity is though to accomplish if the component is obsolete and otherwise unusable once the next launch window is open. If the components had some constant parallel use besides the scientific missions, things might be different.

Re:A lesson for space robotics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43415395)

I can't really comment on how hard engineering stuff for space is, but the marine environment is very harsh. One of the biggest difficulties, which isn't an issue when designing for space, is biofouling. Whenever I've seen these wavegliders pulled up, they are covered in muscles and other marine growth. Sometimes these grow in a place where they aren't wanted such as mechanical assemblies, which can cause malfunctions. If you had that problem with an instrument in space, you would probably win a Nobel prize. This can be gotten around by building stuff from copper (expensive, heavy, not suitable for every application, and will slowly corrode), or coating your assembly in nasty paint which will still need to be refreshed from time to time. Any surface not covered will have stuff growing on it, which can degrade the performance of the glider over time.

lol (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about a year and a half ago | (#43413245)

I figured they were talking about hardware updates since even miles under the ocean, in the pitch black, Windows Update will find you and make you upgrade and reboot :-P

Use them to clean up trash in ocean (1)

DickBreath (207180) | about a year and a half ago | (#43414315)

How about a fleet of autonomous wave energy harvesting robots that collect trash in the ocean?

Slightly OT: Dolphins doing the same thing? (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year and a half ago | (#43414973)

Years ago I watched a documentary where scientists determined that dolphins (maybe sharks too?) were migrating much further than should have been possible with the amount of food they were eating. They figured out they were also using some kind of wave-powered cruise mode, but I can't recall how the mechanics of it worked. I tried a while back to look it up but couldn't find anything. This ring a bell w/ anyone?

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