MERBOTS aims at progressing in the underwater intervention systems development. To that end, we plan an extensive use of multirobot cooperation and multimodal perception systems. Nowadays, when the mission area is too deep and risky to be carried out by divers, the alternative consists in using remotely operated vehicles (ROV). This is a difficult and expensive solution requiring sophisticated support infrastructure and specialized personnel. Consequently, the use of robotic technology is normally limited to strategic or high added value operations like rescue, offshore industry or security and defense. We propose a system and a methodology that will permit safer intervention tasks, at a lower cost, and operationally simpler. New application areas like marine archaeology at large depth can be attained, and thus, important results can be reached, not only from the economic, but also from the scientific, social or cultural points of view.

The methodology designed uses up to three heterogeneous vehicles cooperating in different configurations at each phase of the mission. A first stage is implemented with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) endowed with acoustic and optical sensors and aan Autonomous Surface Craft (ASC) whose mission is the localization and supervision of the AUV and link it to the remote base. This configuration is used to elaborate, first, an acoustic map on which a second survey of the AUV is planned. Later, the AUV uses the optical sensors and moves closer to specific regions to record detailed information of potential targets. The data from these  surveys, georeferenced by the ASC, permit obtaining an accurate 3D reconstruction of the area under study to plan the intervention stage. Next, an operator, using an HMI that includes a target recognition system, identifies the target and plans the manipulation stage. Finally, a Hybrid-ROV with a multifunctional system formed by a manipulator and a hoover carries out the supervised intervention task. During this stage, an AUV equipped with cameras stays close and supports the HROV operation providing images from an external viewpoint. This complementary information guarantees a robust and reliable manipulation, which is essential in archaeological missions. A good communication link between vehicles is important in all the stages of the mission, but critical during the last one. Hence, we will develop new wireless underwater communication systems, allowing the vehicles to exchange commands and images.


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