Divers can follow the octopus for short periods, but what's really needed is an undersea robot that will wait patiently outside the creature's den, ready to shadow its every move.
UA engineering undergrads, in collaboration with students from two other universities, are building a mini-sub to answer this need. In July, they took a prototype to Alaska for testing.
Appropriately named Shadow III -- and painted a bright yellow that belies its sleuthy assignment -- the mini-sub includes a video camera and hydrophones (sonar mikes) to track its prey.
Marine biologists, directed by Professor David Scheel at Alaska Pacific University, will use the sub to track octopuses. Meanwhile, undergrads at Colorado School of Mines are developing the hydrophones under the direction of Tyrone Vincent, an associate professor of electrical engineering. The hydrophones are set up to create bi-aural hearing that will allow researchers to determine the direction from which a sound originates.
During the July test, Shadow III completed ten dives in Prince William Sound, with a communications cable linking it to a mother boat on the surface. Divers checked it for leaks, while UA Professor Emeritus Tom Vincent and UA Mechanical Engineering senior Patrick Haley tested its robotic vision, motors and internal computer. Along the way, it encountered and filmed a Giant Pacific Octopus.
Tests Included Both Fun and Frustration
"There were some fun moments and some frustrating ones during the testing," UA's Vincent said. "We never thought we would have to take the dome off and expose the computer parts to salt air, but, of course, we immediately blew some fuses and had to remove the dome. So we had all this moist, salty air getting into everything."