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Houston Mechatronics of Texas, US reports that it is conducting tests on a new ‘shape-shifting’ subsea bot, dubbed the Aquanaut, which is intended to operate in two distinct AUV and ROV modes, depending on the actual task at hand. Founded in 2014 by former NASA robotics experts, Houston Mechatronics has developed the 1,050kg Aquanaut to move to its target subsea location in ‘AUV’ or ‘excursion’ mode. This sees the unit travel in ‘streamlined’ fashion, with its body closed up and its robotic arms internally stowed.

 

Rather than having to depend on a mothership and/or tether, the Aquanaut can be launched either from the shore or from an offshore platform, and supervised by an operator in a shore-based control centre, using Houston Mechatronics’ in- house-developed Commander brand of over-the-horizon software.

 

In-field transformation
The Aquanaut is equipped with a 30kWh battery pack, and a single charge should be sufficient for it to cover a distance of more than 200kW at a top speed of 7knots, propelled by two rear thrusters. Sensors and cameras enable the bot to collect data during transit.

 

When the unit arrives at its target location, however, it transforms itself into a crab-like robot, with the hull opening up to reveal a pair of arms and its payload bay. The Aquanaut then enters ‘ROV’ or ‘work class’ mode.

 

Holding its position at the site, the shore-based operator can manipulate the bot’s arms and claws to pick up and handle subsea objects. An additional pair of vectored thrusters assists the unit in station-keeping. The Aquanaut has a length of 2.9m in AUV mode and 3.5m in arms-extended, ROV mode.

 

Commenting on the ongoing development programme, Nic Radford, Houston Mechatronics chief technology officer, says: “We have removed the need for onsite vessels, and people, from subsea work while still maintaining the operator’s situational awareness and the ability to modify missions.”

 

At time of going to press, the company confirmed that it had completed development of the arms to its satisfaction, and it envisages the first commercial model hitting the market in 2019. The Aquanaut also has potential for tasks such as removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) at potential offshore sites, as well as for military applications.

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