Research: Robots assist in gaining glimpse of life underwater

Roza Gkliva.
Roza Gkliva. Source: Meelis Kobin/TalTech

To investigate marine life, researchers have been working on developing self-sustaining, autonomous and remote-controlled robotic vehicles. Roza Gkliva studied and tested such robots at TalTech's School of Information Technology.

While robots have traditionally been used in industrial settings, they are now our tireless assistants everywhere, mowing lawns and vacuuming dust in our homes, assisting with storage, and delivering packages. Often, the power source of a robot is its Achilles' heel; there are robots that need to be continuously connected to a power grid, which limits their range of mobility. Gkliva's study, on the other hand, involves autonomous robots that float in water and move in environments such as mud, snow, and wet sand.

How to study fish?

Gkliva set out to investigate and test how robots could move on land and in water while conserving energy and incurring as little environmental impact as possible. Such robots could be useful for environmental monitoring and aquaculture, among other applications.

Hundreds of thousands of fish swim in close proximity in fish farms and it is important to track their growth and inspect for parasites and other issues.

Large underwater robots have monitored fish enclosures in the past, but they have a basic drawback. Fish are frightened of intruders and attempt to escape, making it impossible to get close to them, let alone examine them.

"As part of my PhD, I have tested a mechanism that can move both submerged and on land. I created a prototype, which I am currently refining.
It is a really promising mechanism because it can be as it can be easily reconfigured; it is this part of the thesis that I am most proud of," Gkliva said.

Gkliva's robots could be used for environmental monitoring and fish aquaculture. Source: Meelis Kobin/TalTech

There is also the issue of how robots interact with their surroundings. For decades, the focus has been on robot-human interactions; however, since robots can now navigate in aquatic environments, robot-environment interactions have become increasingly important.

Gkliva studied robot motion in situations with both liquid and solid properties, Maarja Kruusmaa, TalTech professor, said. "In the future, these various types of devices could be used for environmental monitoring, such as when soil or water samples have to be obtained without causing excessive environmental damage."

"Its novel way of movement means that it is capable of moving in flooded and abandoned mine shafts," she said.

From the lab to the real world

Gkliva said that she will continue to work with robots and that she sees a great deal of development potential in the field of soft robotics, especially in terms of movement in aquatic and amphibious environments.

"My aim is to bring these mechanisms from the lab to the real world. The technologies for providing power and pressure to small and lightweight robots are still in their infancy, but I hope to develop them in the future," Gkliva said.

Roza Gkliva sends the U-CAT robot to a fish farm to collect data on robot-fish interactions. Source: TalTech


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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