This 'Bot is on the Hunt... for Spilled Oil
As was recently demonstrated by the San Francisco Bay oil spill, a rapid cleanup response can make all the difference between limited, short-term environmental damage and a drawn-out, persistent ecosystem-level blight. The aftereffects of the disastrous Exxon Valdez spill, which occurred almost 20 years ago, are still being felt to this day: To this day, only 2 of the 28 affected species have been declared fully restored.
In an effort to help tackle this challenge, a team of engineers at Japan's Osaka University are building an autonomous robot, called SOTAB 1 (Spilled Oil Tracking Autonomous Buoy 1), that will be able to locate spilled oil and provide real-time GPS coordinates. Weighing in at 243 lbs (110 kg) and measuring 9 ft (2.72 m) in height by 11 in (27 cm) in diameter, the robot is equipped with imaging and viscosity sensors to allow it to detect and track oil from a distance; additional devices, including a wind monitor and water thermometer, allow it to provide a continuous stream of real-time data.To locate the oil, SOTAB 1 dives underwater to train its sensors up to the surface; if it detects what it perceives to be globs of oil, it rises back to the surface with the help of its 4 steering fins. It takes water samples to determine the exact amount of oil - all while monitoring surrounding conditions and sending back data to researchers.
Though still in its early development phase, Naomi Kato, an underwater robotics engineering professor leading the project, expects it to be completed within the next 2-3 years. He and his colleagues plan on reducing the weight below 30 kg and on extending the battery life to 3-4 weeks.
Image courtesy of Asahi
See also: ::UK Deploying Armada of Robot Submarines and Sensors to Monitor Gulf Stream, ::Heat Harvesting Marine "Robot" Glider Flight Announced By Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution & Webb Research