In Italy, an international team of scientists have launched an unprecedented exploration project in the waterways beneath the city of Venice using swarms of autonomous underwater robots.
The project has designed three different bio-inspired robot species: an aPad robot floating on the water surface, an aFish swimming in shallow waters and an aMussel robot covering the seabed.
The purpose of the robots is to analyse and help protect the fragile ecosystem of the Venetian lagoon: the aMussel robots collect and store data, the aFish transports this information and the aPad brings the data to the surface.
The robots are robust and flexible and are designed to talk and listen to each other and to develop as a “self-organizing underwater swarm”.
One of the main challenges is to develop a communication system for the robots, as neither Wi-Fi nor GPS work underwater, so the researchers have turned to sonar technologies.
The robots can be programmed for long autonomous outings, ranging from a few hours to several months, which means that the investigators had to come up with innovative solutions to meet the energy requirements of the robots.
A total of 120 devices will eventually make up the Venice experiment, which constitutes the world’s largest autonomous underwater robot swarm to date. Scientists are hoping to develop far-reaching purposes for such robots in the future.