Students at Tallinn University of Technology develop an affordable underwater robot designed to search shipwrecks, as Liane Wimhurst reports.
It has all the features of a friendly, robotic turtle. But this hi-tech machine is designed to do the work of archaeologists Created by students at the University of Tallin, it's hoped that it will one day search shipwrecks unaided. SOUNDBITE (English) TALLINN UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY CENTRE FOR BIOROBOTICS RESEARCHER, TAAVI SALUMAE, SAYING: "The final goal of this robot is that it is fully autonomous, so it doesn't need to be operated by operator, so the archaeologist just has to send the robot to the shipwreck or find the entrance and send the robot in and after that it is fully autonomous. It goes in and comes out and for navigating inside a wreck it uses different sensors that it has mounted on." The underwater robot currently operates by remote control attached to a cable.....and has cameras to take pictures of its finds. It swims using fins rather than a propeller to minimise the amount of sediment created. Designers hope it can take on the risky jobs so divers won't have to. SOUNDBITE (English) RESEARCHER FROM ESTONIAN MARITIME MUSEUM, PRIIT LATTI, SAYING: "We must deal with change of pressure. The pressure, as you know, increases the deeper you go. Also there are, you know, the dangers, the shipwrecks themselves can be quite hazardous for a human being to operate because you can get lost for example, you can get trapped somewhere. It's always a possibility that something happens with your diving gear, for example with your air supply or something like that, so…And of course there are always limits." The robot was made using low-cost technology. Before it was invented the only other robots available for use by archaeologists were very expensive. The U-CAT is still in the design phase but it's hoped it will be available to buy from 2017. Until then, the lost treasures of the deep will have to wait.