The first automated sample made by a robotic arm on the seabed has been carried out thanks to a remote-operated hybrid vehicle, built by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
The objective of the operation was to explore the Kolumbo volcano , an active underwater volcano off the famous island of Santorini in Greece.
Nereid under ice
Nereid Under Ice (NUI) was one of the WHOI underwater robots to star in this milestone, which was from a patch of mineral-rich seabed sediment off Kolumbo.
As Rich Camilli , a WHOI associate scientist leading the development of automation technology as part of NASA’s Planetary Science and Technology Interdisciplinary Research Program (PSTAR), explains:
For a vehicle taking a sample without a pilot driving, it was a huge step forward. One of our goals was to do without the joystick, and we were able to do exactly that.
Slightly smaller than a Smart car, NUI was equipped with automated planning software based on Artificial Intelligence , including a planner called "Spock", which allowed the explorer to decide which sites to visit on the volcano and take samples autonomously.
In the operation, an order was given to the autonomous handler, and moments later, a sip sample hose connected to the robotic arm was extended to the precise location of the sample to absorb it .
Kolumbo is an active underwater volcano in the Aegean Sea, about 8 km northeast of Cape Kolumbo, Santorini island. The largest of a line of about twenty underwater volcanic cones stretching northeast of Santorini, it is about 3 km in diameter and has a 1.5 km diameter crater.