Robotic scientists at Stanford University have invented OceanOne, a robotic "mermaid" that can go to ocean depths too dangerous for humans while a human being controls the robot from the safety of a boat (video below).
"OceanOne will be your avatar," Oussama Khatib, a professor of computer science and mechanical engineering, told Stanford News. "The intent here is to have a human diving virtually, to put the human out of harm’s way. Having a machine that has human characteristics that can project the human diver’s embodiment at depth is going to be amazing."
The idea for OceanOne, which is the shape of a human, complete with eyes to see objects and arms and fingers to grab them, was first conceptualized by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia as a way of monitoring deep coral reefs in the Red Sea, which are too deep for humans to dive to. So KAUST professors reached out to Stanford for help.
"We got in touch with the Stanford team and told them that we were not happy with the engineering solutions that are currently available," Christian Voolstra, assistant professor of marine science at KAUST's Red Sea Research Center, said in a 2015 interview, according to IEEE Spectrum.
"They said, 'Ok, we know how to build robots … why not build an underwater robot?'"
The depths of the Red Sea can be reached with robotic submersibles, but the OceanOne takes on a combination of robotic ability with human shape and technological advancement to allow a human to control the vessel from afar with remarkable precision.
The pilot is able to control the OceanOne with the use of sensors and cameras. There are also algorithms programmed into the OceanOne so it can avoid collisions.
"You can feel exactly what the robot is doing," Khatib said. "It’s almost like you are there; with the sense of touch you create a new dimension of perception."