According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Oraganization, the portion of the ocean still to be explored is more than 80%. We still have kilometers and kilometers of surface to know and map before we can be truly satisfied.
Still, exploring the seas isn't as simple as it sounds.
Ships alone are too slow and too expensive to do such a job. They need an extra help, an ally they can rely on to explore the immense blue.
This is where technology comes into play, with the production of aquatic robots capable of going deep, controlling the ocean and all its secrets.
This is what he believes John O. Dabiri, a professor of aeronautics and mechanical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. His team's project led to the creation of CARL-Bot (Caltech Autonomous Reinforcement Learning Robot), an aquatic robot little more than a hand.
CARL is powered by an internal microprocessor, which allows him to move freely and record everything he observes. A tiny camera that can go to the undiscovered depths of the ocean, giving scientists something to work on.
CARL's memory and its functioning
The CARL water robot owes its invention to the Caltech graduate student Peter Gunnarson, which produced it in the Dabiri laboratories.
At the moment, CARL is receiving a number of small changes. It is important that he is able to orient himself and navigate the ocean alone, without the need for external control.
Gunnarson asked the computer scientist for help Petros Koumoutsakos, who managed to develop artificial intelligence algorithms for CARL, potentially able to teach him to orient himself based on changes in the environment and past experiences.
Nature Communications published their research only this week, demonstrating the extraordinary nature of the project.
The algorithms developed by Koumoutsakos exploit the robot's memory, its “memories”. The goal, as confirmed by Dabiri, is to "use this information to decide how to deal with the same situations in the future"
The lab is still in full swing, and scientists are trying to figure out if CARL will really get the job done.
Below, the presentation left by Caltech about the project.
To carry out the different tests, the team will place CARL inside a tank, with small jets capable of generating horizontal currents through which to navigate.
During the tests, we will also take care of regulating and lightening the load of the sensors by CARL.
When a robot is equipped with tools such as LiDAR or cameras, its ability to stay in the ocean for a long time before having to change the battery becomes quite limited. By lightening the load on the sensors, the researchers would be able to increase the usage time of CARL and obtain much better results.
The “bionic jellyfish” project that explores the ocean
CARL's software, given its incredible complexity, could act as a "trailblazer" for other innovative projects.
Last year, Dabiri's group - still the same group - published research on the use of electric zapping to control the movements of a jellyfish .
Adding a CARL-like chip would allow researchers to better guide jellyfish across the ocean.
Unlike robots, jellyfish would have no depth limits, they could reach virtually any place.
CARL is just the beginning of a much larger project, which will allow us to closely observe every corner of the sea surface. Dabiri's vision is great and enthusiastic, we just have to wait for the next updates.
You might someday imagine 10.000 or a million CARLs (we'll give them different names, I guess) all going into the ocean to measure regions we simply can't access today at the same time so that we get a time-resolved picture of how the ocean is changing. (…) It will be really essential to model climate forecasts, but also to understand how the ocean works.