The Robotics Innovation Center (RIC) researches systems and concepts for the use of robotics in a wide variety of fields – including the support of humans in logistics and production, the exploration and evacuation of hazardous areas, and maintenance work in hostile environments for humans such as the deep sea.
From the maintenance of maritime infrastructures to the salvage of munition leftovers and the removal of plastic waste, many underwater operations are not only complex and expensive, but also pose significant risks to the divers who perform them. Remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) are already being used to explore deep waters and monitor the condition of maritime assets. However, the trend is toward the use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which remain in the water for long periods of time and can perform complex tasks there using artificial intelligence (AI) methods.
In cooperation with a worldwide network of partners from industry and science, the DFKI Robotics Innovation Center is working on autonomous underwater robots that are evaluated in a continuous development chain reaching from the application concept over simulation to laboratory trials in comprehensive test facilities. Frequent excursions in the Atlantic as well as in the North and Baltic Seas guarantee an application-related performance assessment.
This unique combination of laboratory infrastructure and realistic missions enables the development of robust and reliable systems that can withstand the harsh environmental conditions of the maritime sector thanks to the application of machine learning and state-of-the-art navigation techniques.
A central research field and at the same time future topic in maritime robotics is the manipulation and handling of infrastructures and operation environments by autonomous robots. The Robotics Innovation Center has already successfully demonstrated semi-autonomous underwater manipulation with the AUV „Cuttlefish“ developed in the project Mare-IT. This intervention robot, which can be positioned freely in the water column, has two deep-sea capable gripping systems attached to its ventral side to flexibly manipulate objects underwater. At the same time, the innovative vehicle is able to change its center of gravity and buoyancy during a dive and assume and maintain any orientation in a stable manner. In addition to fully autonomous operation, the AUV can be operated via optical fiber in a hybrid mode that allows human intervention, for example during critical operations on underwater structures.