We've written a lot about autonomous underwater vehicles, otherwise known as underwater robots, that serve different purposes from tracking marine life and exploring coral reefs to studying Arctic ice. These devices can go places that manned crafts can't and can stay submerged for longer periods of time than manned operations can. As these robots become more sophisticated, scientists can use them to gather information on the health of our oceans and the animals that inhabit them that wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago.
Many of these robots are inspired by the propulsion of their natural counterparts like fish, snakes and squid, easily navigating the water. Researchers at the National University of Singapore are developing a tiny sea turtle-inspired robot that pushes its way through water like a real sea turtle does.
Using onboard sensors, the robo-turtle may one day be able to test bodies of water for pollution and toxic waste or perform surveillance operations. The vehicle doesn't use a ballast system for propulsion making it small and lightweight. This means it takes little energy to power it and that it also can accommodate more tools and sensors.
The robot could be outfitted with a solar panel so that the battery could recharge anytime it surfaces. An onboard turbine could allow it to sink to the bottom and harvest energy from the sea currents.The robot is able to dive vertically like a sea turtle using accurate front and hind limb gait movements meaning it could enter tight spaces like crevices, tunnels or pipes.
“We can have a swarm of tiny turtles which communicate with each other and act collaboratively to perform their duties. With improved maneuverability they can go to tiny and narrow places like crevices where bigger vessels are unable to do so," said Associate Professor S K Panda.
One day these swarms could perform environmental monitoring in situations where it would be dangerous for people to go, like diving to survey oil spills, checking for nuclear pollution or just exploring great depths.