A new underwater robot designed by University of Washington researchers will monitor the effects of tidal and wave energy on marine habitats.

The instrument package has a range of technologies: a stereo camera to collect photos and video, a sonar system, hydrophones to hear marine mammal activity, sensors to gauge water quality and speed, a click detector to listen for whales, dolphins and porpoises, and a device to detect fish tags. A fiber optic cable connection back to shore allows for real-time monitoring and control, and the device will be powered by a copper wire.

The instruments fit inside a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, that can maneuver underwater and drop off the instrumentation package at a docking station integrated onto a turbine or other existing subsea infrastructure. The tool attaches to most types of underwater infrastructure, ranging from tidal turbines to offshore oil and gas rigs.

Researchers outfitted the underwater surveying machine with five extra thrusters on an external frame to give it more power to move against strong currents. Actuators on the vehicle latch the monitoring instruments onto a subsea docking station, and then the robot can disengage, leaving the instruments in place, and travel back to the water’s surface.

The team tested the vehicle, dubbed the"Millennium Falcon," and the instruments it transports, called the Adaptable Monitoring Package, underwater for the first time in January. UW will continue testing in Puget Sound under more challenging conditions starting this month.

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Also: Learn about Biologically Inspired Robots.