RE2 Robotics was awarded a Phase II small business innovation research award to develop an inflatable underwater dual manipulator system for the US Navy (USN) Office of Naval Research (ONR) on 7 February 2017.
The robotic underwater manipulator arms are being developed to bring "stand-off" capabilities to USN explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) divers, similar to the capabilities robotic systems have brought to EOD technicians operating on land. The manipulators are intended to be integrated onto unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to perform underwater location and identification of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on vessels, bridges, and underwater structures such as piers, according to the statement by RE2.
"During Phase I RE2 engineers designed an inflatable underwater dual manipulation system," RE2 stated. "A prototype will be developed and tested during Phase II. Ultimately, the manipulator arms will be used as a collaborative robotic system to assist EOD divers in dismantling IEDs and other hazards."
Dr Andrew Mor, principal investigator for the programme, told Jane's, "The outer shell of the inflatable manipulator arm will be made of a high-strength fabric suitable for both fresh-water and salt-water exposure. The joints of the arm will also be constructed from a fabric material while the continuous-motion roll joints will be made from high-strength, low-cost materials and actuated with the same working fluid as the pitch joints."
"One of the most beneficial aspects of soft, or inflatable, robotics is the inherent compliance present in the construction and actuation of the inflatable mechanism," Mor said. "If the manipulator inadvertently strikes an object, the manipulator will deform to lessen the shock of the impact and minimise the likelihood of damage."
RE2 has historically developed manipulation systems for EOD ground robots, but over the past year it has worked with the USN to transition its manipulation capabilities to underwater systems.
Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options: ihs.com/contact