The "Gulper AUV" is an underwater vehicle that is programmed to look for information of use to the scientific community.
Gulper AUV Sub-Aquatic Robot
The group explains that it has 'trained' the robot to retrieve the highest-quality information back to them.
"We tell it, 'here's the range of tasks that we want you to perform', and it goes off and assesses what is happening in the ocean, making decisions about how much of the range it will cover to get back the data we want." says Dr Maughan of MBARI.
The Gulper AUV is used to help scientists keep tabs on various algae. In particular, these scientists are keeping watch for algae blooms that could means problems for the ecosystem.
It used to be the case that a ship would be sent out for a whole day every few weeks to retrieve the kind of information that the Gulper AUV can nab in one of its trips. They just take it out to the harbor, and away it goes on its mission. Around twenty-four hours later, it comes back, they hoist it away, and analyze the results.
The biggest flag to go off in my mind is that this must require some interesting exploration and path planning algorithms to deal with an undersea environment. Taking a look at MBARI's website, the Gulper AUV is equipped with four sonar that operate simultaneously to provide a fantastic map of the sea floor in high resolution.
The multibeam sonar produces high-resolution bathymetry (analogous to topography on land), the sidescan sonars produce imagery based on the intensity of the sound energy's reflections, and the subbottom profiler penetrates sediments on the seafloor, allowing the detection of layers within the sediments, faults, and depth to the basement rock. All components are rated to 6000 m depth. The vehicle is launched on programmed missions and runs on its own battery power until it returns to the ship, as programmed, for recovery - MBARI AUV Mapping Page
Head over to the article at BBC to hear an audio snippet about the Gulper AUV
. it's about halfway down the page. If you think that's cool, then you'd also better head over to the AUV's home page at MBARI to check out the technical goods