The use of uninhabited surface and underwater vehicles of various types, as well as other robotized complexes, in solving the widest range of tasks in the interests of the naval forces and the coast guard of the leading countries of the world has become widespread in recent years and has a tendency to further rapid development.
One of the reasons for the attention paid by naval specialists to the creation of underwater robots is the high effectiveness of their combat use in comparison with the traditional means available to the command of the naval forces of the countries of the world up to the present. For example, during the invasion of Iraq, the command of the US Navy in the Persian Gulf zone, using autonomous uninhabited underwater vehicles, managed to clear all mines and other dangerous objects from the quarter-square-mile bay area (about 16 sq. Km) during the entire 0,65 hours, that, as one of the representatives of the United States Navy noted to the Associated Press, a typical squad of diver-miners would have taken 21 a day.
At the same time, the list of tasks solved by uninhabited underwater vehicles is constantly expanding and, in addition to the traditional and most common - the search for mines and explosive objects, the provision of various underwater operations, as well as reconnaissance and observation - already includes solving shock tasks and working on more complex and previously inaccessible for "Robots in uniform" sections of the littoral zone, where they must destroy mines and other elements of the enemy antiamphibious defense. The specific conditions of their combat use are shallow water, strong tidal currents, waves, difficult bottom relief, etc. - result in the creation of mechanisms that are distinguished by high technical complexity and originality of the applied solutions. However, this originality often leaves them sideways: the customer is not yet ready for the massive introduction of such man-made monsters into the troops.
One of the first military-purpose robots designed to work in the “beach” zone in preparation for the amphibious assault operation can be considered a small crustacean autonomous underwater robot known as Ambulatory Benthic Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, which can be translated from English as “walking benthic” (bottom) autonomous underwater vehicle ".
This unit weighing just 3,2 kg was developed on its own initiative by specialists from the Marine Science Center at Northeastern University, located in Boston, Massachusetts (USA), under the guidance of Dr. Joseph Ayers. The customer was the United States Naval Research Department (ONR) and the Advanced Defense Development Agency of the US Department of Defense (DARPA).
The device is a bottom autonomous robot of the so-called biomimetic class (robots, similar to any animal world patterns. - V.Sh.), resembling cancer and intended for carrying out intelligence and anti-mine operations in the intertidal zone and on the first coastline, as well as at the bottom of rivers, canals and other shallow natural and artificial reservoirs.
The robot has a body made of durable composite material 200 mm long and 126 mm wide, eight mechanical legs with three degrees of freedom each, as well as a pair of front claw-like crab or crab, and one back, resembling something of a tail of cancer hydrodynamic stabilization of the robot under water approximately in length 200 mm each (that is, each surface is comparable in length to the body of the robot). Mechanical legs are driven by artificial muscles made of a nickel-titanium alloy with a shape memory effect (NiTi shape memory alloy), and the developers decided to use pulse-width modulation in the drives.
The actions of the robot are controlled using a neural network controller that implements a behavioral model borrowed by developers from the life of lobsters and adapted to the conditions of combat use of these robots. Moreover, experts from Northeastern University chose the American lobster as a source for developing the behavioral model of the robot in question.
“The ways and behaviors that lobsters have used for thousands of years to search for food can equally well be used by robots to search for mines,” says project leader Dr. Joseph Ayers of the Northeastern Marine Science Center.
The onboard robot cancer control system is built on the basis of a “Persistor” type computer system based on the Motorola microprocessor MC68CK338, and the device’s payload included a hydroacoustic communication system, a compass, and a krenomer / accelerometer built on MEMS-based (MEMS - microelectromechanical system).
A typical scenario of the combat use of this robot was as follows. A group of crayfish robots is delivered to the area of application using a special transport torpedo carrier (it was supposed to create something like an underwater version of a small cargo container used in the Air Force). After scattering, the robots, according to a pre-programmed program, were supposed to conduct reconnaissance or supplementary exploration of the designated area, identify elements of the enemy antiamphibious defense system, especially with regard to mines and other explosive objects, etc. In the case of large-scale production, the purchase price of one cancer robot could be approximately $ 300.
However, on the construction of several prototypes and their short trials the case, apparently, did not go. The main potential customer - the Naval Forces, who initially allocated about 3 million dollars for these studies, did not express any further interest in the project: the latest development of the Northeastern University was demonstrated to the specialists of the US Navy command, apparently, in 2003 year. Probably, there were no customers among the participants of those exhibitions where this invention was demonstrated.
KRABOVIDNY "ARIEL II"
An attempt to create a robot based on the characteristics of the structure of "seafood", and specifically - the crab, was undertaken by the specialists of the American company "Ayrobot". The company is today one of the world's leading developers and manufacturers of various types of military and civilian robots, and the volume of their supplies has long been estimated at millions. Founded in 1990, the company since 1998, regularly participates in the interests of DARPA or other units of the military and security agencies of the United States and other countries of the world.
Developed by the company's specialists, the robot was named Ariel II (Ariel II) and classified as an autonomous walking underwater vehicle (Autonomous Legged Underwater Vehicle - ALUV). It is designed to search and remove mines and various obstacles in the enemy antiamphibious defense system located in the coastal shallow zone and on the "beach". A feature of the robot, according to the developers, is its ability to remain efficient and upside down.
Ariel II weighs about 11 kg and can take a payload of up to 6 kg. The length of the apparatus is 550 mm, the greatest length of the manipulators with a compass and inclinometer is 1150 mm, the width is 9 cm in the low position and 15 cm on the raised legs. The robot is capable of operating at depths up to 8 m. Power source - 22 nickel-cadmium batteries.
Structurally, "Ariel II" is a crab-shaped apparatus having a main body and six legs attached to it, possessing two degrees of freedom. According to the plan of the developers, all the target electronic equipment placed on board the “crab in uniform” was to be located in a hermetic module. Target load management system - distributed. Works on this mine action robot were carried out under contracts issued by the DARPA agency and the US Navy Research and Development Directorate.
The scenario of the combat use of these robots is in many ways similar to what was described above, with one difference: the robot had a mine destruction mode. Finding a mine, the robot stopped and took a position in the vicinity of the mine, waiting for the command. Upon receipt of the corresponding signal from the control panel, the robot undermined the mine. Thus, the "flock" of these robots could simultaneously almost completely or even completely destroy the antiamphibious minefield in the area of the planned landing of the amphibious assault forces. The developer also proposed an option that does not envisage the role of a kamikaze: the robot simply placed a charge of explosives on the mine and, before the explosion, retreated to a safe distance.
One of the prototypes of the robot - miner "Ariel". Photos from www.irobot.com
Ariel II demonstrated its ability to search for mines during at least three tests. The first was held in the coastal shallow water area in the Riviera Beach area, near the town of Riviera in Massachusetts; the second is in the Panama City, Florida, area with funds from Boeing Corporation, and the third is in the Monterey Bay area by order of National Geographic. Apparently, this project did not receive further development (including due to far from unambiguous results of the above tests), and the military customer, who financed the work at the first stage, allegedly considered a more promising other development of the same company, known as Transfibian "and discussed below. Although here, too, is not so simple.
"TRANSFIBY" FROM MASSACHUSETS
Another uninhabited submersible for working in the intertidal zone, which is listed behind Ayrobot, was not originally developed by its specialists, but was inherited, so to speak, by Nekton Corporation, which it acquired in September 2008 for 10 million dollars
This unit was called Transfibian (Transphibian) and was created in the interests of the military for searching and destroying mines of various types using the self-exploding method using an on-board charge of explosive 6,35 kg and a signal remotely supplied by the operator.
“Transfibian” is a small-sized (portable) autonomous uninhabited underwater vehicle about 90 cm. Its main difference from other anti-mine underwater vehicles in the littoral zone is the use of a combined method of movement: in the water column, the device is moved using two pairs of fins, like a fish or a pinniped mammal, and along the bottom it is already crawling with the help of the same “fins”. At the same time, the materials on this development state that the “fins” have six degrees of freedom. According to the developers, it provides the possibility of equally effective use of the considered device both in shallow water and at great depth, and also significantly increases its mobility and ability to overcome obstacles of various nature.
As a payload, it was planned to use various search equipment up to a large-sized optical-electronic camera, which was to be hung on special mounts under the central part of the apparatus.
The development status is currently not entirely clear, since the section devoted to the uninhabited underwater vehicle "Transfibian" is not even on the website of the developer company. Although some sources claim that it was in favor of this unit that the US military department preferred, abandoning the previously considered development of the same company - the uninhabited Ariel II submersible. However, it is likely that the project was closed or frozen, since the American naval specialists were, to put it mildly, not satisfied with a number of important parameters of the considered underwater uninhabited apparatus.
The latest sample of uninhabited vehicles designed to search and destroy mines, as well as conduct reconnaissance of the enemy’s anti-amphibious defense in the so-called surf zone, which we consider here, was created by experts of the famous American company Foster-Miller, specializing in the development of military and police robots. This unit, known as the “Tactically Adaptable Robot”, was carried out as part of the “Very Shallow Water / Surf Zone MCM Program” program, funded by the Scientific and Research control of the US Navy.
This sample was an unmanned tracked amphibious vehicle, developed using the know-how acquired by Foster-Miller when the Lemming compact ground-based robot was built upon the request of the DARPA agency. Thus, this unit is able to work both on the seabed in shallow water near the shore (in a river, lake, etc.) and on the shore. In this case, the developer has provided the possibility of equipping the device with various battery options (rechargeable batteries), sensors and other payloads, which were located in the compartment with a useful volume of about 4500 cube. inches (about 0,07 cubic meters).
The constructed prototype of the device has the following tactical and technical characteristics: length - 711 mm, width - 610 mm, height - 279 mm, weight (in air) - 40,91 kg, maximum speed - 5,4 km / h, maximum range of travel - 10 miles. As a payload, it was planned to develop tactile sensors (touch sensors), a magnetic gradiometer, a magneto-inductive sensor for contactless detection of objects, etc.
The onboard equipment of the amphibian robot is supposed to include navigation tools (multi-touch system for determining the spatial position of the device using the Kalman filter; navigation system for work in shallow water SINS (Swimmer Inshore Navigation System); receiver of the global subsystem global navigation satellite system (DGPS); three-axis compass ; odometers; gyro sensor yawing apparatus for the course, etc.) and communication (ISM-band radio receiver and underwater acoustic modem), and the onboard control system is made on PC base standard PC / 104.
The results of the survey of the designated area of the water area (seabed) by each of the amphibian robots allocated for this purpose - and the operation is planned using a group of similar devices - are transmitted to the operator console, where a digital map of this area is formed on their basis.
Specialists from Foster-Miller and the units of the coastal systems of the US Navy's Surface Warfare Center jointly conducted a test cycle of a prototype of the system in question, during which they were to demonstrate the ability of the amphibious robot to perform the following tasks:
- search for various objects in the designated area of the water area;
- search and identification of objects on the seabed;
- full and thorough examination of the area of the littoral zone (surf zone) at the site of the upcoming amphibious landing operation;
- maintaining two-way communication with the operator on the carrier ship or coastal gearbox;
- Solving the required tasks offline.
In July, 2003, this amphibious robot was shown to everyone in Boston as part of an exhibit organized by the US Naval Research Department during the Boston Harborfest festival, and earlier, in 2002, the US military used these devices in a version optimized for onshore use during an operation to survey caves in the mountains of Afghanistan.
The status of the system is indicated as “under development”, contracts for any serial production of amphibian robots have not yet been concluded (at least information about this has not been made public), so it is likely that the customer in the person of the US Navy command has not yet shown active interest to continue the work on the project. In addition, on the website of the US Navy in the section on the program "Mine action forces and equipment for very shallow water areas and the surf zone," there is no mention of this robotic complex.
In general, it can be stated that the task of searching for, detecting, classifying and destroying mines in the littoral zone and on the first coastline ("beach"), as well as detecting various elements of the enemy antiamphibious defense remains one of the most important components of the integrated process support amphibious operations. Especially those that are carried out in unfamiliar parts of the coast.
In this regard, we can expect further development of work on the subject of creating robotic tools designed to solve the above problems. Although, as can be seen from the above information, the task of creating uninhabited and even more autonomous vehicles capable of operating in extremely difficult conditions of the littoral zone (surf zone, on the first coastline), characterized by difficult bottom relief, shallow depths and strong currents, is not easy and does not always lead to the desired and satisfying customer results.
On the other hand, back in 2008, the pages of the online resource NewScientist.com published material based on a forecast made by British and American experts regarding the most serious threats of a scientific and technical nature that humanity might face in the foreseeable future . And what is remarkable, according to the authors of the forecast, one of the threats with a high degree of probability may be the excessively rapid development of biomimetic robots - systems created on the basis of borrowing certain samples of the nature of the planet. Such as, for example, autonomous uninhabited underwater vehicles, created similar to certain samples of marine fauna both in a constructive sense and in relation to the behavioral models implemented in their control systems.
According to British scientists, rapidly biomimetic robots of this kind can become a new occupant species on our planet and come into confrontation for the possession of living space with their former creators. Fantasy? Yes, probably. But a couple of centuries ago, the submarine Nautilus, space rockets, and combat lasers seemed to be fantasy. A specialist in biomimetic robots, Robert Full, who works at the University of California at Berkeley, emphasizes: "In my opinion, at this stage, we know too little about the possible threats to plan our development accordingly."