This robot could be your new shipmate

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The hull crawler, here on display at the annual Navy League symposium, can aid sailors by crawling into a ship's hard-to-reach spots. // Photo by Sam Fellman

Meet the hull crawler. Think Roomba robot, but for your ship’s hull — a remote rover that could keep sailors from having to squeeze into tight spaces or going over the side.

It’s a shoe-box-sized robot that clings to a ship’s hull with magnets, a device initially built to scout out the underwater mines divers could place along a ship’s hull. But now, designers are looking for additional uses that may assist sailors in more mundane tasks, like spotting corrosion along the hull or motoring into hard-to-reach places like tanks and voids.

The system — which is not in the fleet — can be controlled by a crew member or rove autonomously, sending back a video feed from the camera mounted on its arm. Two tanklike treads move it along surfaces about 10 feet per minute.

The robot — designed by QinetiQ and the Applied Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University, and displayed at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space symposium outside Washington, D.C. — could also have a laser affixed and be dispatched to clean tanks and voids, a tough job that normally falls to nimble, young sailors, according to its developers.

“It’s actually quite slick,” Curt Brockelman, a program manager with QinetiQ, said of the laser, which is being tested. “It’s like a butter knife.”

The possibilities don’t end there. Hull crawler could even be deputized as a boatswain’s mate — touching up gray paint on the hull here and there with a brush on its robotic arm.

 

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  1. What happens when you run over HY80 (common) patch plate, which is not magnetic? I used to drive underwater robots on ship hulls for UWILD hull inspections and ran into this problem many times, requiring some inovative redesign of the robots to overcome the problem. Hull stiffeners, patch plate, sea chest combings, gratings, etc are all generally made from non-magnetic plate (SS or monel). Take it from an ex-Navy diver (23 years active duty), ex- Woods Hole Alvin crewmember, and ex-underwater ROV pilot/Technician, this is going to come back to bite you.

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