The new research direction in robotics is under water robotics for finding environmentally dangerous material on the bottom of the sea.
The seas have for a long time been seen as the perfect dump. As the poison barrels, mustard gas shells, ammunition or other environmental and health hazardous waste has disappeared under the surface it’s gone! Frightening examples, in our absolute vicinity, are there 20-30 thousand barrels of poison that has been dumped outside Sundsvall, shells with mustard gas outside Bornholm, mines and ammunitions on the Baltic seabed and leaking diesel oil from the sunken ships that are all a sad legacy of that kind of thinking.
This is of course no longer the way things are done anymore; on the contrary, today we are very aware of what is on the bottom of lakes and seas. How we can solve the problems of this waste, however, is far from clear at the moment. For example, to bring up the mercury barrels outside Sundsvall today would cost large sums, and experts cannot even agree if it creates more problems to deal with them the to let them stay. Another example of hazardous material in our lakes and seas is the naval mines placed in water to destroy ships or submarines.
The grenades, mines and ammunition lying on the bottom of e.g. the Baltic Sea, are in addition to an environmental problem, an obstacle when deploying pipelines and HVDC cables – an area where Sweden has a dominant market position. Furthermore, they are a danger to people, material and enterprises.
One area that is under strong development, and that could be used to solve these problems, is robotics. By combining research and development of underwater robotics with the knowledge of strong industrial partners and as a result strengthen the initiatives in this area, we can create the necessary basis for a effective and environmentally safe way to clean up the ocean bottom, and thus take the initiative in a very important environmental and otherwise important work.
The project “VARUM” – Visual Aided Robots for Underwater Minehunting
The overall objective of the proposed project is to make mine hunting more effective, safe and secure than the present methods. The mine hunting is done in three steps: First the seabed is scanned with a high-resolution sonar for Mine Like Objects (MLO’s). As a second step each of these MLO’s needs to be inspected in order to verify whether it is a sea mine or not. The MLO might be partly occluded and/or deposited in murky water, which further complicates the identification. This second step is in most cases done using either a diver or a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) equipped with a camera. In this project we will study the feasibility of using embedded stereovision in autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) for the underwater mine identification part, which will drastically increase security for both personal and equipment.
If it is verified that it is a true mine it is neutralized by an explosive charge that is put near the mine. The charge can be either dropped as a bomb or carefully placed nearby the mine with a manipulator arm.The research questions that arise that Saab Underwater Systems, SUS, and Mälardalen University, MDH, is interested in finding answers to are the following:
- What navigational algorithms are most suitable for locating MLO’s found with high definition sonars?
- What object recognition algorithms are most feasible to identify sea mines that can be partly occluded?
- In what aspects will an embedded stereovision system improve a system with a single camera?
- Will object recognition performance improve given 3D data?
- Could a stereo vision system improve the visual range in murky water?
- What is the size and power consumption of a FPGA solution as compared to a general purpose embedded PC?