Robotics has evolved rapidly in the last decade. Today the farfetched fantasy of a robot serving you tea in bed, first thing in the morning seems very likely with each passing year. And though all the attention in the mass media is devoted to these smart-home robots, there is another branch of robotics which is changing our lives in a different kind of way. There are aerial and maritime robotic systems which assist in various roles from disaster relief and rescue operations to helping the ecology and environment. A case study from Switzerland has had interesting results.
Case Study: Envirobot
Image Source : biorob.epfl.ch
The envirobot is a creation by the research team of the Ecole Polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL), in joint collaboration with other institutes.
Envirobot is a robotic eel that has the capability to swim across contaminated or polluted water to locate the exact source of the problem. It has been created by researchers after heavy pre-planning and prototype tryouts. The Envirobot can be controlled with a remote control but it also has the capability to move on its own. Although as of now this technical marvel, which looks and moves eerily like a real eel, has only be tested in a small section of Lake Geneva. However the tests and feedback have been very positive.
The Envirobot is a marvel of robotics and a god indication of how sophisticated the industry has become through the years. It measures a decent 1.5 meters and comes equipped with the finest biological and chemical sensors that the best research money can buy. In motion it is a sight to behold as it can move through water without disturbing any aquatic life it grazes against. It is just like an eel or sea snake that has sensors and beeps. The sensors attached to its body collect measurements and recordings which are sent to a computer. The transfer of data is a sight to behold- almost real time even though the Envirobot is many feet below the water.
Not too long ago most underwater robots were fitted with propellers, much like the rotating propeller of a ship. They would often get stuck in underwater swamp and algae, sometimes even malfunctioning and sinking. But the Envirobot, which is internally mechanized, moves around like any aquatic life form would and easily escapes this issue. It can easily locate the source of pollution, even in hazardous areas.
The exact mechanism is such: There are small curvatures which run through a small electric motor which are located in numerous small modules beneath the exterior steel surface or skin. These modules are also equipped with temperature sensors which record the outside febricity and send the data. Furthermore these modules also help in keeping the Envirobot afloat. They fill up with water, depending on outside feedback. It is a marvel of engineering.
Current tests and results
The Envirobot is regularly put out to test in Lake Geneva. The robot has had great success in finding conductivity variations across different regions. It has also generated a temperature map. Furthermore, the lab results of these samples have been excellent. Future tests will go a step beyond and look at real pollutants which the Envirobot has been created to do.
What this means for Robotics
According to data the current leaders in the development of Robots and robotics research are Japan and the United States. Both nations have a tradition and historical association with the Robot industry and robots feature heavily in their respective social and pop culture. It won’t be long before Germany, England and Canada dive into this sector. A research company in 2016 estimated that the drone industry alone would be worth an estimated 21 billion dollars by 2022 and with water pollution being high on the list of sustainability priorities; it is but expected to see a surge in water robotics also.
Robotics is going through a golden age at present, much like Virtual and Augmented Reality. These are exciting times with drones capable of being used in war zones and robots diving into the deepest trenches of the Oceans. The success of Envirobot will only strengthen the need to create robots that will help humans in fighting ecological issues.