What does it mean to make the deep sea accessible? Right now, doing research in the deep sea requires deep pockets: gathering the right experts, chartering a research vessel, and leasing or buying robots all make research very complex and expensive.
We believe that better technology can change this. Most deep sea research uses the robot equivalent of a Pagani supercar, we want to also give researchers the option of something like a Volkswagen Golf. Not as flashy, but it gets the job done. There are many measurements which don’t need supercars but reliable and affordable do-it-all machines that bring back the focus to the research itself, not the equipment. This way, budgets can be spent more effectively, while more research can take place.
Our first step is to bring down the price of the core technology required to reach the deep sea and prove that it can be used to deploy research equipment by bringing back images. Concretely put, we want to:
When we started, we had never build an underwater robot. So, we started by figuring out what was important. We asked questions like: "Is the ideal underwater robot be big or small?" and "What should an ideal underwater robot be able to do?". This resulted in a clean-slate design of a small, nimble and cheap robot.
Our idea for a smaller and cheaper deep sea exploration robot hinged upon being able to build Miniaturised Pressure Tolerant Electronics (MPTE). Hence, it was the first thing we tested. The test results showed us that MPTE was viable, paving the way for our design.
Knowing that we could rely on MPTE, we set out to test the overall design of our robot by building the Propulsion Test Vessel. This has given us a wealth of insight in how to build, control and work with underwater robots.
Though the PTV got us started, it was far from a deep sea capable system. It didn't have the battery capacity or output power to dive deeply enough, it didn't have the smarts to know what to do once there, and - most importantly - it would implode on the way down. That's why we spent a year to go through the full design cycle of a deep sea capable robot, which resulted in the LOBSTER Explorer design, which taught us the detailed requirements and trade-offs in underwater robot design.
When designing robots, plans often change. Because of this, we used what we learnt from the Explorer to build a modular development platform with which we can quickly test new ideas. We aim to keep building upon this LOBSTER Scout platform to create a robot capable of going to the deep sea.
We're currently hard at work to get the first outdoor water capable configuration of the Scout platform ready for action. This will be the first test of the system as a whole.
An integrated technology demonstration is still far from a robot you can rely upon. To start increasing our confidence in our robot, we will begin performing more and more complex missions in rougher and rougher environments.
Once we have proven that the Scout works at moderate depths, we will move on to our ultimate goal: becoming the first students to reach the deep sea by demonstrating that it is possible to gather footage from the deep sea floor with a small and inexpensive robot.
Discoveries are out there, waiting to be made. Imagine what we could learn if anyone had access to them. Want to help?