Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Deep Sea Technology Is Put To The Test In Campus Tank

22.11.2002


Photo A: Louis Whitcomb supervises underwater robotics research at Johns Hopkins, including a new lab that features a tank filled with nearly 43,000 gallons of water.
Photo by Jay Van Rensselaer


Photo B: Doctoral student James Kinsey prepares to test the navigation and control systems that guide the lab’s underwater robot.
Photo by Jay Van Rensselaer


Tethered Robotic Sub Helps Engineers Refine Computerized Navigation, Control Systems

In a new indoor tank filled with almost 43,000 gallons of water, Johns Hopkins engineers are developing and testing computer control systems to serve as the "brains" for some of the world’s leading deep sea robotic exploration vehicles. To promote advances in underwater robotics, the Whiting School of Engineering recently constructed the circular hydrodynamics tank, 14 feet deep and 25 feet in diameter, inside a large lab space within Maryland Hall.

In the tank, researchers are testing the JHU Remotely Operated Vehicle, a small underwater robot developed at the university. Its navigation and control systems, also developed at Johns Hopkins, have recently been adapted and enhanced for use in the much larger Jason II vehicle, a new deep-sea oceanographic research robot operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The Johns Hopkins navigation program also has been deployed aboard the Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin, Woods Hole’s inhabited oceanographic submersible.



Future navigation and control techniques devised in the new test tank are expected to improve the operations of deep-sea robots such as Jason II and Isis, a similar vessel that Woods Hole is developing for the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

"Our research goal is to develop new technology to enable new oceanographic research," says Louis Whitcomb, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who is director of the new testing facility. "Moreover, we collaborate with other institutions like the National Deep Submergence Facility at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to deploy these new technologies for ocean science on vehicles such as Jason II and Alvin."

Deep sea robots like Jason II are relatively new but increasingly important tools for scientists who want to explore some of Earth’s most remote and hostile frontiers. Human scuba divers can descend safely only about 300 feet, or 100 meters. Yet the deepest parts of the ocean lie 11,000 meters below the surface. To explore greater depths, scientists in the 1960s began building small inhabited submersibles. Such vessels have been used to explore the R.M.S. Titanic’s wreckage. But because such vehicles must carry their own fuel and air supplies, explorers are limited to eight to 12 hours per dive.

To overcome these limitations, engineers in the last 15 years have begun building uninhabited robotic vehicles that remain tethered to a research ship on the surface. Long cables feed power and instructions to the submersible and retrieve images and other data. These vehicles usually are equipped with video cameras to allow researchers to see what the vehicle "sees" in real time. They often possess robotic arms to collect artifacts, rocks and biological samples.

"The deep ocean is a cold, dark, high-pressure, inhospitable environment, and this equipment must be able to operate reliably under these conditions," Whitcomb says. "Inhabited deep submersibles, such as the U.S. Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin, remain the only way for humans to directly observe the benthic floor with their own eyes. Deep-diving submarines are ideal for many tasks, yet they have limited endurance. One advantage of an uninhabited submersible is that it can explore the deepest parts of the ocean 24 hours a day, seven days a week, under the remote control of science teams that are working around the clock aboard the mother ship."

Operating a robotic vehicle from a great distance poses certain challenges, however, and that’s where Whitcomb’s team comes in. "Our lab focuses on two key problems that occur in the design of remotely operated undersea vehicles: navigation and control," Whitcomb says. "One of the most difficult things about maneuvering an underwater vehicle is that you need to know where it is. What, precisely, is its position and orientation on our planet? To determine these things, we’ve developed a computer system that integrates signals from a dozen on-board sensors to compute the submersible’s position and velocity."

Based on this information, an operator on the surface can use a joystick to move the undersea robot in three dimensions. The control system developed by Whitcomb and his students also allows an operator to tell a computer precisely where the vehicle should be located; the software then automatically moves the vehicle to that point. At the new Johns Hopkins hydrodynamics lab, researchers are fine tuning this system by sending commands over a tether line to six electric thrusters mounted upon the test submersible.

At sea, researchers on the surface can use this same system to carefully control a larger underwater robot’s movements, instructing the vehicle to move in a precise grid pattern. This allows the sub to collect the images and sonar data needed to produce photographic and topographic maps of sections of the ocean’s floor that contain interesting geological, biological or archaeological features. Whitcomb says his computer system also can direct a submersible to hover just 6 to 12 inches above the ocean floor, close enough to collect samples without disturbing ecologically sensitive surfaces. "With this system," he says, "we can control a vehicle’s position to within a few centimeters and its heading to within a degree."

Whitcomb supervises underwater robotics research at Johns Hopkins as director of the Dynamical Systems and Control Laboratory. The JHU Remotely Operated Vehicle was designed and built by one of his doctoral students, David Smallwood. Another of Whitcomb’s doctoral students, James Kinsey, is refining the underwater navigation system at the new testing tank. Other Johns Hopkins marine and oceanographic researchers will have access to the new tank. Funds for construction of the tank and related research were provided by the National Science Foundation.

Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
3003 N. Charles Street, Suite 100
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-3843
Phone: (410) 516-7160 | Fax (410) 516-5251

Phil Sneiderman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.jhu.edu/news_info/news/audio-video/underwater.html
http://robotics.me.jhu.edu/dscl/
http://www.me.jhu.edu/

More articles from Process Engineering:

nachricht CeGlaFlex project: wafer-thin, unbreakable and flexible ceramic and glass
25.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT

nachricht Additive manufacturing, from macro to nano
11.04.2017 | Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V.

All articles from Process Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>