Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The (more) intelligent robot
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Chris von Alt with the new REMUS vehicle. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphics Services)
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Tom Austin launches a REMUS capable of working to depths of 100 meters (1,980 feet). (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphics Services)
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Fred Jaffre prepares instruments and flight plans for a REMUS vehicle. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphics Services)

WHOI engineers call them pickup trucks, though these underwater vehicles are a bit sleeker than the typical terrestrial model from Detroit. And these multi-purpose workhorses drive themselves.

Chris von Alt (right) and colleagues from the WHOI Oceanographic Systems Laboratory have been rolling out new models of Remote Environmental Monitoring Units, or REMUS, since the mid-1990s. New customers for these autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) arrive each year with requests for custom-built chassis and features—from Navy personnel who used REMUS to hunt for mines in Iraqi harbors, to urban engineers who use them to examine underground aqueducts for leaks. REMUS can be launched and recovered from small boats (or even torpedo tubes) and equipped with a variety of instruments and sensors to tackle assorted missions.

The newest vehicle is the REMUS 600, designed for dives as deep as 600 meters (1,980 feet) and for long-duration missions, REMUS 600 has enough battery power to range from nearshore areas to the continental shelf break and back. REMUS 600 is equipped with Global Positioning System receivers, and Iridium satellite and WiFi transmitters to allow scientists to track it even on a several-hundred-mile survey.

Senior Engineer Tom Austin (middle photo) launched a REMUS 600 from the WHOI dock for a test drive in 2004. This one had a synthetic aperture sonar (white portion of the tube) mounted in its midsection for detailed mapping of the ocean bottom. Engineers such as Fred Jaffre (bottom photo) can swap instruments and preprogrammed flight plans in and out of the AUVs.

Development of the REMUS 600 vehicle was supported by the Office of Naval Research.

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