Tiny Feelers May Help AUVs Navigate Murky Waters
Researchers in Singapore have invented a sensory device that may allow autonomous marine vehicles to navigate in murky waters.
AsianScientist (Dec. 17, 2012) – Researchers in Singapore have invented a sensory device that may allow autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to navigate in murky waters.
Using a combination of water pressure and computer vision technology, the device gives its users a 3D map of nearby objects in its surroundings.
The 1.8 mm x 1.8 mm sensor device was designed using micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMs) technology by Associate Professor Miao Jianmin and colleagues from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Unlike cameras which cannot see in dark or murky waters, or sonars whose sound waves pose harm to marine life, the device has micro-sensors that mimic the row of ‘feelers’ on both sides of the blind cave fish’s body.
Miao said the line of sensors present on the blind fish’s body is the reason why it can still travel at high speeds without colliding with underwater obstacles.
“To mimic nature, our team created microscopic sensory pillars wrapped in hydrogel – a material which is similar to the natural neuromasts of the blind cave fish – into an array of two rows of five sensors,” he said.
The sensors are now being used in AUVs developed by researchers at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), a research center funded by the National Research Foundation. The center is developing a new generation of underwater ‘stingray-like’ robots and autonomous surface vessels.
“This array of micro-sensors will then allow AUVs to locate, identify, and classify obstacles and objects in water through water pressure and also to optimize its movement in water by sensing the water flow,” he said.
At just US$82 per device, the sensors may potentially be used as a replacement for the expensive ‘eyes and ears’ on AUVs, submarines, and boats that currently rely on cameras and sonars to gather information about their surroundings.
Miao’s team is now looking to develop a hybrid version of the sensor that combines both the zero-energy piezoelectric sensor’s high accuracy with the low-powered static sensor’s ability to detect objects in still water.
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