Robotics platforms are quickly becoming more available, smarter, and better at unlocking areas of the world that were once inaccessible to the average person. One such example is the increasingly popular quad-copter platform. This device allows the user to explore the skies with ease and is inexpensive. The team seeks to push this age of amateur exploration underwater.
Team 12's project, SWIM-R, fills the void in accessible, affordable aquatic exploration. Additionally, it has applications in the fields of Biology, Environmental Science, and Geology by enabling the user to take data on aquatic ecosystems. Further, SWIM-R can be used by marinas to inspect the underside and propellers of large boats to minimize the need to bring a boat to dry-dock.
SWIM-R provides a window into the sea through the eyes of a submersible marine robot. The major functional areas of the SWIM-R system are depicted below. The main blocks are the Computer, the Float, and the Sub. The Computer portion consists of software that is run on the user's personal computer. It provides an interface for steering and a video feed from the Sub that allows the user to see where they are going. The Sub is an example of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and is the drivable portion of the system. The Float connects these two systems. It enables conversion from long distance control over the air via Wi-Fi to a wired connection to the Sub via Ethernet.
A typical ROV consists of a robotic unit with sensors, cameras and sometimes a robotic arm, all of which enable the user to accomplish various tasks. Additionally, a typical marine ROV is tethered to a base station computer via a long, thick (between 0.25 and 2 inches in diameter ) cable that provides power and data to the submersed robot. This tether typically is both expensive and cumbersome due to its thickness and amount of copper used.
The goal of the SWIM-R is to create an affordable, practical means to explore underwater. An example of a "low-cost" ROV that is commercially available is the Seabotix LBV Submersible [http://www.nonstopyacht.com/static/browse/session/Product/View_/NUS&2DSBX&2D150.htm]. The website shows a cost of €7495.00 for each system (roughly $9814.70). The target cost for the SWIM-R (for full scale production and sale) is between $700 and $1500in order to fit in the price range of the increasingly popular quad-copter platform. A quad-copter is a highly mobile flying unit that opens the skies for hobbyists and photographers. Team SWIM-R seeks to fill this niche in the aquatic environment similar to how the quad-copter has in airborne robotics.
The SWIM-R system will provide a window to the largely unexplored aquatic ecosystem. This goal will be accomplished by utilizing a computer that the user will likely already have access to such as a laptop/desktop computer. This will reduce cost because the conventional, commercial ROV is hard wired (through the heavy tether) to a custom computer. If we allow the user to control the Sub through a device they already own, the product's cost will be reduced and the learning curve will be lessened by the familiar device.
Additionally, the cost of the SWIM-R system is reduced by powering the Sub using on-board batteries. The alternative to powering SWIM-R with batteries is powering it from a base-station on land. Commercial ROVs are powered with 120-240V AC power which is then converted to DC when it reaches the ROV. This power is achieved either through an AC generator or batteries and an inverter. Powering the ROV with onboard batteries eliminates the need to have an AC generator on site and makes setup and operation of SWIM-R simpler for the user.