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Underwater robot foils illegal smuggling

14 Oct 2014  | Elizabeth Montalbano

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The robot has an elliptical shape, which is designed to be inherently unstable, Bhattacharyya wrote in the article for MIT. "It's very similar to fighter jets, which are made unstable so that you can manoeuvre them easily," she said. "If I turn on the two jets (at one end), it won't go straight. It will just turn."

This design allows the robot to execute tight manoeuvres easily but is trickier to manage when the robot travels in a straight line over a ship's hull, Bhattacharyya said. To counteract this, all the tubes on the robot exit at different angles that were designed to provide optimal control over the robot's instabilities.

Researchers currently are working on the robot's next prototype, which will include wirelessly rechargeable batteries and changes to the propulsion system that should allow the robot to operate for 100 minutes on a single charge.

This project isn't MIT's first undersea autonomous craft designed to inspect ship hulls. MIT researchers previously teamed up with the Navy to develop the Navy's Hovering Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (HULS), a device that can swim around and view a ship's hull to ensure there are no mines, shafts nor propeller structures attached to it.

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