The Cuttlefish AUV rotates underwater to become a manipulator-armed ROV

When it comes to underwater robots, some tasks are easy to automate, while others are best handled by handheld remote control. The Cuttlefish offers the best of both worlds, plus it intelligently changes orientation when using its dual manipulator arms.

Developed by a team from the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), the Cuttlefish AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) was created as part of the marine robotics project Mare-IT.

The battery-powered experimental craft is 2.8 meters long (9.2 ft), weighs 1,200 kg (2,646 lbs) on land, is capable of operating at depths of up to 1,500 m (4,921 feet) and can move in any direction thanks to its eight electric thrusters. It also includes three cameras (one on the front, two on the underside), an array of LED spotlights, and two manipulator arms that fold into its underside when not in use.

Pictured doing a test dive in a pool, the cuttlefish can be fitted with peripherals such as sonar sensors, laser scanners and magnetometers


The idea is that instead of having to be deployed from a surface ship each time it is used, the Cuttlefish will be stored in an underwater hangar equipped with a battery charger located near a structure such as an offshore oil rig or a wind turbine. For routine tasks such as inspecting this structure, it will autonomously exit its hangar and examine things, remaining in a horizontal orientation. It will be guided by its front-facing camera and AI-based algorithms running on its on-board computers.

For more complex tasks that require a human touch, however, a remotely located operator can step in and take manual control of the Cuttlefish. They will communicate with it in real time via a fiber optic cable that connects the vehicle to a satellite communication buoy on the surface.

The cuttlefish stands vertically to manipulate an underwater lever
The cuttlefish stands vertically to manipulate an underwater lever


Upon entering ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) mode, the Cuttlefish will rotate to hover in a vertical orientation. His two arms, which were previously on his underside, will then extend from what is now his front side. The operator – wearing a Microsoft HoloLens VR headset – will control these arms via voice commands and a physical controller, guided by a stereo video feed from the Cuttlefish’s two (formerly) lower cameras.

There is currently no word on when the Cuttlefish AUV may enter commercial use. For now, however, it can be seen in action in the video below.

And for another example of a hybrid AUV/ROV equipped with a manipulator arm, check out the Aquanaut from Houston Mechatronics.

Mare-IT: powerful IT infrastructure for underwater maintenance with a revolutionary double-arm AUV

Source: DFKI via IEEE Spectrum

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