Research ArticleAUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

A hybrid underwater robot for multidisciplinary investigation of the ocean twilight zone

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Science Robotics  16 Jun 2021:
Vol. 6, Issue 55, eabe1901
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abe1901

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Abstract

Mesobot, an autonomous underwater vehicle, addresses specific unmet needs for observing and sampling a variety of phenomena in the ocean’s midwaters. The midwater hosts a vast biomass, has a role in regulating climate, and may soon be exploited commercially, yet our scientific understanding of it is incomplete. Mesobot has the ability to survey and track slow-moving animals and to correlate the animals’ movements with critical environmental measurements. Mesobot will complement existing oceanographic assets such as towed, remotely operated, and autonomous vehicles; shipboard acoustic sensors; and net tows. Its potential to perform behavioral studies unobtrusively over long periods with substantial autonomy provides a capability that is not presently available to midwater researchers. The 250-kilogram marine robot can be teleoperated through a lightweight fiber optic tether and can also operate untethered with full autonomy while minimizing environmental disturbance. We present recent results illustrating the vehicle’s ability to automatically track free-swimming hydromedusae (Solmissus sp.) and larvaceans (Bathochordaeus stygius) at depths of 200 meters in Monterey Bay, USA. In addition to these tracking missions, the vehicle can execute preprogrammed missions collecting image and sensor data while also carrying substantial auxiliary payloads such as cameras, sonars, and samplers.

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