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.