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
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