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Robot hovers underwater

Extra thrust gives this autonomous underwater vehicle the ability to hover in one place despite ocean currents or nosy aquatic life.

A new autonomous underwater vehicle created by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is able to hover over a specific position in the ocean even in the face of currents.

How'd they do it? In a word: thrusters.

The Odyssey IV, which was developed at the MIT Sea Grant Program's Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Laboratory, uses a combination of fins and thrusters on both ends of the robot. It allows it to act more like a helicopter than a propelled glider. The thrusters can also propel the Odyssey IV as fast as two meters per second.

The small robust AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) can navigate to a given point and then maintain that position, self-correcting for things like obstacles, sea life, and ocean currents. The Odyssey IV can withstand the rough jostles and pulls of the aquatic environment up to 6,000 meters below the ocean's surface. It

It's not just something being tested in a lab pool. The Odyssey IV was used this summer by researchers investigating sea squirt activity in the George's Bank area of the Gulf of Maine.

(Credit: MIT AUV Lab)

"The sea is very unforgiving. If there's anything that can go wrong, the sea will find it," Chryssostomos Chryssostomidis, director of the MIT Sea Grant Program, said in a statement last week.

But hovering for the purpose of observing a specific ocean target is only one part of what the robot can do. The Odyssey IV is capable of picking up and carrying cargo. Its current mechanical arm is also able to complete simple functions such as turning a valve.

While the scientists seem proud of their robot's ability to stay in one place, they clearly have no interest in treading water themselves.

Chryssostomidis and company are already working on how they can give the AUV a longer battery life, better communication capabilities from underwater, and a larger capacity for holding and transferring data.

The group also hopes to develop more flexible arms capable of sophisticated movements that could enable it to be used as a repairman for underwater machinery.