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New underwater expedition robot can recognize, collect deep-sea organisms

Yuya Nishida, a research associate at the Kyushu Institute of Technology, points to the sampling gate of "Tuna-Sand2," a new deep-sea expedition robot that can identify and collect organisms, in this photo taken at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Industrial Science in the capital's Meguro Ward on April 24, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Japanese researchers have developed an underwater robot that can automatically recognize and capture seafloor organisms -- technology likely to make the task of exploring deep-sea resources more efficient, an academic team has announced.

    The robot, dubbed "Tuna-Sand2," was developed by a team of researchers from Kyushu Institute of Technology and the University of Tokyo. Exploration with this robot is less cumbersome than past methods which involved the use of manned submersible vessels or robots attached to remote-control cables, requiring a large mother ship.

    Measuring about 1.3 meters on each side and weighing 380 kilograms, the box-shaped Tuna-Sand2 can dive to depths of up to 2,000 meters. It is equipped with a camera and sampling gate 7 centimeters in diameter. If the robot identifies possible seafloor organisms based on colors or patterns, it takes photos and sends them to the research team's mother ship through a wireless transmitter. Responding to researchers' orders, the robot then sucks in the organisms.

    The research team successfully photographed red snow crabs and their habitats on the floor of the Sea of Japan in 2010 using Tuna-Sand1, an autonomous underwater vehicle with a camera that continuously shoots photos as it moves. However, the researchers still had to determine through photos whether what they were seeing were creatures. When developing Tuna-Sand2, they added the features of automatic recognition and sample collection.

    The team tested Tuna-Sand2 in Suruga Bay, Shizuoka Prefecture, in March 2018 and the robot collected seashells at a depth of 100 meters.

    At the end of July, the team will search for methane hydrate, a next-generation fuel generated by dead animals and plants, and will collect samples.

    Yuya Nishida, a research associate at the Kyushu Institute of Technology who specializes in undersea robotics, commented, "If we can take pictures of the seabed and collect samples at the same time, we'll be able to efficiently investigate deep-sea resources."

    (Japanese original by Yuka Saito, Science & Environment News Department)

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