Underwater robot developed for mine countermeasure missions

June 5, 2020
Teleoperating a new robotic system may protect naval craft from explosive devices in the water.

In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics, the Office of Naval Research increases funding for drone development, Volkswagen invests $2.6B into startup Argo AI, and the first emergency drone logistics operation by a hospital for pandemic response.

RE2 Robotics to equip Maritime Dexterous Manipulation System with autonomous capabilities

RE2 Robotics will continue the development and commercialization of its technology under the Dexterous Maritime Manipulation System (DM2S) program after receiving $2.5 million in funding from the Office of Naval Research.

Equipped with RE2’s DM2S technology, Navy personnel will be able to autonomously perform mine countermeasure (MCM) missions.

During the next phase of the program, RE2 Robotics will upgrade its dual-arm prototype, known as the Maritime Dexterous Manipulation System (MDMS), for deep ocean use. To enable autonomous manipulation capabilities, the company will also apply computer vision and machine-learning algorithms. Lastly, RE2 says that it will integrate with underwater vehicles that can autonomously navigate.

“In the first phase of this project, we successfully developed a dexterous underwater robotic system that was capable of teleoperation in an ocean environment,” says Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO of RE2 Robotics.

“This additional funding enables our team to further expand and upgrade the capabilities of our underwater robotic arms to perform MCM tasks in deeper water through the use of autonomy. In addition, this advanced technology will allow us to pursue commercial opportunities, such as underwater inspection and maintenance in the oil and gas industry.”

RE2 Robotics notes that while a lot of underwater robotic systems are hydraulic-driven, MDMS uses an energy-saving, electromechanical system, which allows MDMS to perform longer-duration subsea inspection and intervention tasks while reducing system maintenance and downtime.

“With the development of our first MDMS prototype, we created a compact, lightweight system with a sealed, neutrally buoyant design that was successfully tested in the Pacific Ocean,” says Jack Reinhart, vice president of project management.

“We’re now looking forward to improving upon that proven design by adding even greater functionality in deep water, including integration with new underwater vehicles and computer-vision-based autonomy.”

Volkswagen invests $2.6 billion in Argo AI

Volkswagen Group has finalized its $2.6 billion investment into Pittsburgh-based self-driving car startup Argo AI, which came out of stealth in 2017 with $1 billion in backing from Ford.

With the deal, Argo AI, which currently has fleets of autonomous vehicles mapping and testing on public roads in Austin, Texas, Miami and Washington, D.C., now becomes a global company with two customers—VW and Ford. Argo AI will also absorb Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), the self-driving subsidiary that was launched in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group.

Argo AI is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford's self-driving vehicles. That mission will now expand to VW, as Ford and VW will share the cost of developing Argo AI’s self-driving vehicle technology under the terms of the deal.

“Building a safe, scalable and trusted self-driving service, however, is no small task. It’s also not a cheap one,” says Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC CEO John Lawler in a blog post, via TechCrunch.

Ford announced two years ago that it would spend $4 billion through 2023 in a newly created LLC dedicated to building out an autonomous vehicles business. Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC is home to the company’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous-vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams.

While Ford and VW will share development costs, Ford is not reducing its overall spend in autonomous vehicles, Lawler notes. The company is instead reallocating money towards the development of transportation as a service software and fleet operations for its eventual self-driving service.

Additionally, Ford and VW will not work together on the actual self-driving vehicle service despite the shared investment.

Novant Health, Zipline delivering PPE and medical supplies to frontline medical teams in NC

Novant Health Inc., a not-for-profit, integrated healthcare system headquartered in North Carolina, has partnered with Zipline to launch America’s first emergency drone logistics operation by a hospital for its pandemic response.

Novant Health, which operates 15 hospitals and nearly 700 locations in the southeastern United States, was granted a part 107 waiver from the FAA to begin operation under the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) UAS Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP). The operation will provide contactless distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and critical medical supplies to Novant Health frontline medical teams in the Charlotte, North Carolina metro area.

“Novant Health has long been at the forefront of leveraging technology to enhance how health care is delivered to our patients. The COVID-19 pandemic has tasked us with being even more nimble and innovative in how we solve complex challenges,” says Angela Yochem, executive vice president and chief digital and technology officer, Novant Health.

“Fast-tracking our medical drone transport capability is just one example of how we’re pioneering in the health care industry, which is known for being resistant to change. We are very grateful to the FAA and North Carolina’s DOT for their help to expedite the process during this unprecedented time.”

Zipline drones will be launched from the emergency drone fulfillment center to distribute Novant Health’s critical medical products to its area hospitals. The center, which is adjacent to the Novant Health Logistics Center in Kannapolis, North Carolina, was made possible by Stewart-Haas Racing, whom contributed the site.

The drones take off from and land at the emergency drone fulfillment center, and require no additional infrastructure at the Novant Health facilities they serve. Deliveries are made from the sky, as the drone descends to a safe height above the ground and drops off a box of medical products via parachute at a designated spot. The drones are capable of carrying close to four pounds of cargo, flying up to 80 miles an hour, even in high winds and rain.

The FAA has approved two initial routes for the launch of operations. Service will begin with flights to Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center and expand in later phases. Flights to initial facilities will range in distance from 20 to 30 miles round trip. Zipline’s drones have a round trip range of more than 100 miles, which makes them capable of delivering medical supplies from the Novant Health Logistics Center to more than 30 additional Novant Health facilities upon approval.

“Hopefully, this project and ones like it can help ease the strain on our medical supply chains,” says N.C. Secretary of Transportation Eric Boyette. “We're living through an unprecedented situation, and we're going to need innovative solutions like this to get us through it.”

Compiled by Brian Sprowl, Associate Editor, AUVSI

Share your vision-related news by contacting Dennis Scimeca, Associate Editor, Vision Systems Design


Voice Your Opinion

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Vision Systems Design, create an account today!