Page 22 - Engineering Career Guide for UT Austin
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Lending a Hand (or Two)
Stanford University’s mermaid robot dives where humans cannot.
How do you think of mermaids? Homer’s sirens? Disney’s Princess Ariel? J.K. Rowling’s toothy lake dwellers in the Harry Potter novels? Engineers have
another option: Dr. Oussama Khatib’s OceanOne, the robot with “a friendly face” designed for working underwater. Dr. Khatib is a Stanford University computer scientist
specializing in humanoid robots. Like other sub- mersibles, OceanOne must be operated
from the surface and can be used at
depths greater than those human
divers can get to, with no oxygen tanks required. Unlike any other submersible, OceanOne’s human- oid features enable it to manipu- late objects and show them to the operator.
OceanOne is about 5’2”, has two arms, articulated
wrists, and hands equipped with haptic feedback — the capacity of transmitting information through touch — so the operator can feel whether the object is firm or fragile, heavy or light. The head has a face with two large eyes, cam- eras that provide a stereoscopic view. The brain reads data so that OceanOne can maintain direction, dodge obstacles, and adjust its grip as needed. There’s no fishlike tail, but eight multi-directional thrusters allow the operator to swim OceanOne into places unsafe for human divers. The possibil- ities for dealing with underwater disasters and carrying out ocean research are amazing! “You can feel exactly what the robot is doing,” Khatib says. “It’s almost like you are there.”
OceanOne’s first dive both made and saved history. Ac- companied by watching divers and with Dr. Khatib at the controls in a boat, the merbot retrieved a vase from a
sunken flagship of French King Louis XIV. No human had explored its ruins — or the countless treasures and artifacts the ship once carried — since it sank in 1664. OceanOne han- dled the delicate vase from start to finish, placing it in the recovery basket that carried it to the surface. Based on this astonishing success, it’s hoped that the robot will one day take on more highly-skilled underwater tasks too dangerous for human divers, as well as open up a whole new realm of ocean exploration.

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