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Divers to communicate with underwater robot via smart glove

Upon graduating with his PhD in Bioengineering from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), the researcher flew to Croatia in order to test the glove he developed, which allowed him to communicate with a robot underwater.

According to a recent press release, he and a colleague won first place in a technology demonstration at a conference that challenges all research groups to demonstrate a practical application of EAP materials, or electroactive polymers which are soft and stretchy smart materials.

They demonstrated how they could use EAP-based sensors in a glove, to enable a person to communicate with a virtual underwater robot, commanding it to do things with certain hand gestures.

EAP-based sensors can characterise and recognise human movement.

Background of the project

The research began in 2018 as collaboration between the University of Zagreb, in Croatia, and the Biomimetics Lab at the ABI, in New Zealand.

The project is funded through a grant from the Office of Naval Research in the US.

The underwater environment is stunning and beautiful. However, diving into it carries great risk, especially if one is on their own.

A major risk factor is getting separated from the diving buddy as it can get very cloudy and murky deep in the ocean.

The research is aimed at enabling divers to communicate with a robotic diving buddy through particular hand gestures.

The team imagined having a robot with the capabilities to visualise the diver and their orientation, perform basic tasks for the diver, monitor vital signs and report back to people on the surface, among others.

The challenge is to programme the sensors to recognise gestures that divers might typically use when diving as well as to enable those sensors to control an underwater drone.

It is about a diver being able to communicate with the intuitive language that divers typically use in order to manipulate the drone with the glove.

The Demonstration

A demonstration was made to prove that the algorithms they developed work in order for the robot to recognise what the gloved hand is doing and also what the robot should do in response.

They showcased that the glove can be made to communicate with a robot. They also showed that in can do several things in response to certain hand gestures.

However, as soon as something is done underwater, it becomes more complicated. This is the reason why the pair spent the recent months focused on waterproofing the electronics.

This feature is being tested by them and other divers underwater in Croatia.

Technology in this area has not really improved that much in the years since both have started diving. Wetsuits have improved a lot, and are really good, but this project is exciting as it enhances the capabilities of what divers can do.

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