Now, an Estonian project is using underwater drones to hunt down treasure that may be lurking on the seabed.
Hunting for treasure
The propeller-less underwater robot, which has been called U-CAT, is capable of moving about with minimum disturbance, thus allowing it to operate in potentially fragile environments, such as that of a shipwreck.
Propulsion is provided by four silicon flippers whose design was inspired by the arms and legs of sea turtles.
“They move in a slow and quiet motion and won’t bring up sediment from the (sea) bottom,” the researchers say.
U-CAT, which is part of the EU-funded Arrows project, is capable of staying underwater for four hours, and can submerge to depths of 100 meters. It’s equipped with cameras and lights to help it navigate the depths. It’s size and agility also make it capable of operating in tight spots that are too challenging for human divers.
U-CAT is believed to be one of the first robots designed specifically for underwater archaeology, and will hopefully therefore prove invaluable in the exploration of shipwrecks.
The size of the device does limit it to shallow waters however as it cannot withstand the high water pressure presented by greater depths. It is also completely automated so there is a risk that it may get lost during its exploration.
It has however been tested out in both the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean with a degree of success, so researchers are optimistic that it will be of value.
Whilst the device is not yet commercially available, the initial response to it prompts the developers to be positive over its longer term viability. They believe it’s three or four times cheaper than existing automated options and therefore has a clear place in the market.
It will be interesting to see just how successful the device becomes. Watch this space.