Speaking like dolphins, a robot fleet takes on underwater tasks

December 17, 2018
An underwater autonomous robot built to inspect dams, bridges, and hulls of ships practices by inspecting the side of a pool. Courtesy of Joshua Mangelson.

In a Navy shipyard in San Diego, a new generation of underwater robots are learning to communicate and collaborate in order to inspect boats, bridges, pipelines, and other underwater structures. Developed by Joshua Mangelson, a University of Michigan doctoral student in Robotics, the autonomous vehicles overcome the many challenges posed by murky water by simplifying how the robots coordinate and communicate.

Water, while the basis of life for many, means death for wireless communication. “Below a meter or two of water, Wi-Fi cuts out completely,” Mangelson said. “Same with GPS signals. This is because water attenuates electromagnetic signals very quickly, which makes underwater exploration and mapping a very interesting problem.”

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