When Norwegian production company Fantefilm searched the internet for the world’s coolest underwater robot, they discovered to their surprise that it was made in Norway. The robot thus became the first to land a role in the cinema in the film The North Sea, which is in premiere now.
Kristin Ytterstad Pettersen, professor of cybernetic engineering and a principal investigator at the Center for Autonomous Marine Operations and Systems, AMOS, has been studying snake robotics for several years. Pål Liljebäck obtained his doctorate in snake robotics with Pettersen as supervisor. Based on their research, they launched the company Eelume (pronounced “ee-loom”) in 2015 as a spin-off of NTNU.
No one could have imagined then that Eelume would land a heroic role in Norway’s biggest film production seven years later.
Derivative of differential equations
The world of cinema isn’t the only place where robot snakes can be heroes. In the real world, robot snakes also play a crucial role.
Underwater robots can help explore the ocean, for example. “Only five percent of the ocean has been mapped. A snake robot could help investigate large undiscovered areas, such as the sea under the Arctic and Antarctica, ”says Pettersen.
Professor Kristin Pettersen. Photo: Per Henning, NTNU
How was a creature like this born? The world’s most advanced snake robot for underwater use was first developed through many long math problems that Pettersen and his research group wrote by hand. When the professors in the Department of Cyber Engineering (ITK) at NTNU set out to create something new, differential equations on paper were a key tool.
“Getting the robots to move is super fascinating. We use mathematics to decode the secrets of nature. Mathematics is really a language for understanding and analyzing nature, ”Pettersen explains.
Can perform various tasks at sea
Pettersen led the research that led to a worldwide breakthrough in snake robotics, for which she won numerous awards. Other groups, including Japan and the United States, have mainly focused on mechatronics – the actual construction of joints and materials. Pettersen and his team focused on the “brain,” or algorithms, to figure out how a snake robot should move.
After completing his doctorate, Liljebäck started as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Eelume, becoming responsible for the technological development of the company. Along with the rest of Eelume’s team, he developed Eelume’s serpent-shaped underwater robot.
“After six years of tremendous effort, Eelume is now preparing to perform various tasks at sea. Today’s robot is the third generation and in the coming months it will be performing a stand-alone pipeline inspection,” said Liljebäck.
Autonomous means that the robot can perform tasks on its own, based on a plan without a person controlling it remotely. Other robots, like ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles), are controlled remotely by a person from land or a boat via a cable. The Eelume robot works wirelessly, without any wired connection.
An advanced underwater robot like this can help detect leaks and dangerous issues in subsea facilities, warn of spills and pollution or other threats, and also perform repairs and maintenance. .
“We will also join Equinor in testing the robot’s ability to detect leaks and measure sound, salt content, temperature and oil in the water,” said Liljebäck.
Wireless and using AI
The Eelume team are working hard to ensure that a serpent robot like Eelume will not only be made up of beautiful mathematical equations designed in college, but also benefit the world through practical uses.
“Pål has a perfect command of advanced mathematical theory and the construction of mechatronics itself. He builds the snake robots to look like real creatures, such as giving them eyes that send out information and almost humanize them. They become personalities. The way he combines a mastery of theory and at the same time the desire to put everything into practice is truly unique, ”says Pettersen.
As the Eelume robot works wirelessly, it can move completely freely in the water. Work is now continuing to develop increasingly autonomous operations for the snake robot.
“All of cybernetics is really about developing the ‘brain’ of the computer and includes an element of artificial intelligence,” Pettersen explains.
In 2016, Kongsberg Maritime and Equinor entered into a partnership with Eelume as an investor, technology partner and customer. Innovation Norway also provided financial support through an innovation contract.
This article appears courtesy of NTNU and can be found in its original form here.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.