A new robotic underwater vehicle

MIT researchers have designed a new robotic underwater vehicle that can hover in place like a helicopter -an invaluable tool for deepwater oil explorers, marine archaeologists, oceanographers and others.

The new craft, called Odyssey IV, is the latest in a series of small, inexpensive artificially intelligent submarines developed over the last two decades by the MIT Sea Grant College Program’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Laboratory. The Odyssey series revolutionized underwater research in the 1990s by introducing the thrifty and highly capable underwater robots. But the previous Odyssey vehicles still had one significant limitation: Like sharks, they could only operate while continuously moving forward.

The new Odyssey IV, which has just completed sea trials off Woods Hole, Mass., can move through the deep ocean, up to 6,000 meters down, stopping anywhere in the water column and constantly correcting for currents and obstacles. Navigating to its preprogrammed destination, it can hover in place, making detailed inspections of the footings of an offshore oil platform, or photographing the flora and fauna around an undersea vent. Continue reading