Aquanaut, a submarine that turns into a humanoid robot.

An American startup launches a new type of underwater robot reminiscent of the famous Transformers. Underwater, he can switch from a submarine design to a humanoid shape with arms and even ahead to perform manipulations.

Underwater exploration and maintenance robots have changed little over the last several decades, mainly due to the difficulty of operating in extreme conditions such as the seabed. An American startup, Houston Mechatronics Inc. (HMI), intends to change all this, by proposing a new type of robot reminiscent of the famous Transformers, capable of moving from a submarine with hydrodynamic contours to a humanoid shape with arms. And ahead to perform manipulations underwater.

The startup HMI has created a team of specialists in extreme conditions. One of the co-founders, Nic Radford, spent more than five years as Chief Engineer of NASA's Robotics Humanoid Robot Project. More than 25 of the 75 employees have already worked for the US Space Agency, a team that therefore combines many relevant experiences on the underwater robot project.

Current submarine robots fall into two categories. Autonomous robots (AUVs) usually have an elongated shape like a submarine to explore underwater and are only able to take photos and measurements with sensors. ROVs are typically connected to a boat by cables and are therefore limited in their movements. However, they are generally equipped with tools or arms to interact with the environment.

Aquanaut, a new submarine robot designed by engineers at HMI. Was created to intervene on the undersea installations of oil platforms.

Aquanaut combines the advantages of both types of robots. It does not use any cables and does not need to be attached to a ship. It, therefore, requires only a reduced team to launch it. It moves freely in the form of a submarine to reach equipment requiring intervention. Then, the hull lifts to release two arms capable of handling tools and a head containing all the sensors.
The robot is equipped with two stereoscopic cameras, a structured light sensor, and sonar to create a three-dimensional rendering of its environment.

The operator can then match them to a predefined model of the structure and then indicate a "turn the valve at 90 degrees" command indicating the coordinates.

They were able to use the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a large pool that allows astronauts to simulate weightlessness.

Aquanaut has passed its first test. This first version can operate up to 300 meters and is primarily a demonstration and development model. The team is planning a new version capable of moving over several hundred kilometers and diving at 3,000 meters.