A lot of marine sci­en­tists are more than happy to spend time in the ocean, placing instru­ments, taking sam­ples, and get­ting a first­hand look around. Mark Pat­terson, an affable Harvard-​​educated pro­fessor of marine and envi­ron­mental sci­ences at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, takes it a bit far­ther. He’s lived on the seabed for a grand total of 87 days. Yet Pat­terson knows that some­times there’s no sub­sti­tute for a good remote-​​controlled robot, like the AUVs that he and his lab col­leagues have designed and built. The acronym stands for autonomous under­water vehicle – basi­cally an ocean-​​going space probe.

All these robots are taxi­cabs for sen­sors,” says Pat­terson, the father of an AUV aptly called Fetch that gets pro­grammed to go out and retrieve data. This torpedo-​​shaped AUV is about 6 feet long and weighs 220 pounds. Actu­ally, with a new robot rolling of the line, there are now seven in the Fetch family.

Rigged with the nec­es­sary sen­sors, Fetch bots have been dis­patched to get krill counts in the southern ocean, cruise over a coral reefs in Florida, and assess oxygen levels in var­ious seas. But dif­ferent types of data col­lec­tion call for dif­ferent AUVs. The new Robolob­ster, a cre­ation of Patterson’s North­eastern Uni­ver­sity col­league Joseph Ayers, has eight plastic legs, fiber-​​optic antennae, and an industrial-​​strength plastic shell. It not only resem­bles a lob­ster but scut­tles around like one.

Read the article at Men's Journal →