A device with pipes and pumps sitting next to a body of water

Hackaday Prize 2022: Otter Force One Protects Kelp Forests By Sucking Up Sea Urchins

When thinking about forests being endangered by human activity, most people would immediately think of the rainforest. Below the ocean surface, there’s another type of forest is in danger: the kelp forests off the coast of northern California. Warming sea water has triggered an explosion in the population of purple sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) which devour kelp at an alarming rate. It’s estimated that 90% of kelp forests have been lost to the urchins along a 350 km stretch of coastline.

The fix is as simple as getting rid of the urchins, but collecting the millions of spiny creatures manually isn’t realistic. Luckily, [RobotGrrl] designed just the tool for this task: Otter Force One, an autonomous underwater robot that can gather the aquatic interlopers and put them in a bag for removal. The device is still under development, but progress so far has been promising. The basic idea is to identify an urchin using machine vision, then dislodge it with a water jet, and finally to use a suction pump to pull it inside the machine and store it in a bag.

A prototype made from 3D printed components is currently being used to test the idea. Its motors are driven by an ESP32 with a motor controller, with the system powered by a set of beefy lithium batteries. Tests with plastic urchin models confirm that the suction mechanism works, though the water jet and machine vision systems still need to be tested. But even without these in place the Otter Force One can still be used by human divers to improve their urchin-gathering efficiency.

We’ll definitely keep an eye on this project, and hopefully see it evolve into a fully-automated urchin hunter. Underwater pest-control robots are not completely new: we already saw a laser-powered delouser for use on salmon farms. There are also robotic starfish and octopuses.

It Turns Out You Can’t Just Fly A Drone Under Water

The differences between a drone and an underwater remote-operated vehicle (ROV) aren’t actually that large. Both have powerful motors that move large volumes of fluid (yes, air is a fluid), a camera, a remote, and an onboard battery. So when [RCLifeOn] got his hands on a cheap used drone, he reckoned that it could fly underwater just as well as it did in the air.

To his credit, the principle was sound, and the initial tests looked promising. However, we will spoil the ending and tell you it doesn’t work out as well as he hoped due to water leakage. He printed a case with a large panel for accessing electronics inside and an acrylic window for the camera. The panel pressed up against a gasket via the few dozen metric screws along the perimeter. Despite the design being quite whimsical, he quickly regrets the screws as getting inside is tiring on the wrists. He epoxies the hatch to the hull and drills holes to charge the battery to stop the seemingly never-ending water leaks. After its maiden journey, water got inside and fried some of the motor controllers. So for the second test run, he used what limited capabilities it had left.

Despite the project not working out how he expected, it’s a great example of how some reused parts and some 3d printing can make something entirely different. So perhaps next time, instead of throwing that broken drone away, see if it could be given just a bit of love. Possibly the propellers can be combined or make do with only three motors. Or just go the [RCLifeOn] route and make it into something new entirely.

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Robotic Eels Take Care Of Undersea Pipelines

We can’t tell if the Eelume actually exists, or if it’s just a good CG and a design concept, but when we saw the video below, we wanted to start working on our version of it immediately. What’s an Eelume? A robotic eel that lives permanently under the ocean.

If you have to take care of something underwater — like a pipeline — this could be much more cost-effective than sending divers to the ocean floor. We liked the natural motion and we really liked the way the unit could switch batteries and tool heads.

We do have some questions, though. How do you get rid of one battery and pick up another? There would have to be some battery capacity that doesn’t exchange, but that’s not very efficient since the new battery would have to recharge the internal battery. Perhaps you can add batteries at either end. Some of the still pictures don’t clearly show how the batteries fit in, although they do show the flexible joints, sensors, cameras, and thrusters, which are all modular.

According to the web site, tools can go on either end and there’s a robot arm. The device can apparently shape itself like a U to bring both ends to bear on the same area. Generally, we like robots that mimic nature, but this is one of the best examples of that being practical we’ve seen.

There’s a video on the site of what appears to be real hardware tethered in a swimming pool, though we couldn’t tell how much of the device was subject to remote control and how much would be autonomous. Communicating underwater is finicky and usually requires either an antenna on the surface or a very low frequency (and, thus, not much bandwidth). While completely duplicating this would probably be a feat, it might inspire some hacker-friendly eels.

A lot of underwater vehicles seem to emulate biologic life. Shape-wise we had to remember [Alex Williams’] award-winning underwater glider, even though it doesn’t undulate.

An Interview With Alex Williams, Grand Prize Winner

Alex Williams pulled off an incredible engineering project. He developed an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) which uses a buoyancy engine rather than propellers as its propulsion mechanism and made the entire project Open Source and Open Hardware.

The design aims to make extended duration missions a possibility by using very little power to move the vessel. What’s as remarkable as the project itself is that Alex made a goal for himself to document the project to the level that it is fully reproducible. His success in both of these areas is what makes the Open Source Underwater Glider the perfect Grand Prize winner for the 2017 Hackaday Prize.

We got to sit down with Alex the morning after he won to talk about the project and the path he took to get here.

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Open Source Underwater Glider Wins 2017 Hackaday Prize

The Open Source Underwater Glider has just been named the Grand Prize winner of the 2017 Hackaday Prize. As the top winner of the Hackaday Prize, the Open Source Underwater Glider will receive $50,000 USD completes the awarding of more than $250,000 in cash prizes during the last eight months of the Hackaday Prize.

More than one thousand entries answered the call to Build Something That Matters during the 2017 Hackaday Prize. Hardware creators around the globe competed in five challenges during the entry rounds: Build Your Concept, Internet of Useful Things, Wings-Wheels-an-Walkers, Assistive Technologies, and Anything Goes. Below you will find the top five finisher, and the winner of the Best Product award of $30,000.

Open Source Underwater Glider

Grand Prize Winner ($50,000 USD): The Open Source Underwater Glider is an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) capable of long-term underwater exploration of submarine environments. Where most AUVs are limited in both power and range, the Open Source Underwater Glider does not use active propulsion such as thrusters or propellers. This submersible glides, extending the range and capabilities of whatever task it is performing.

The Open Source Underwater Glider is built from off-the-shelf hardware, allowing anyone to build their own copy of this very capable underwater drone. Extended missions of up to a week are possible, after which the Glider would return home autonomously.

Connected Health: Open source IoT patient monitor

Second Place ($20,000): The Connected Health project aims to bring vital sign monitoring to the masses with a simple, inexpensive unit built around commodity hardware. This monitoring system is connected to the Internet, which enables remote patient monitoring.

Assistance System for Vein Detection

Third Place ($15,000): This Assistance System for Vein Detection uses off-the-shelf components and near-IR imaging to detect veins under the skin. This system uses a Raspberry Pi and camera module or a modified webcam and yet is just as reliable as professional solutions that cost dozens of times more than this team’s prototype.

Adaptive Guitar

Fourth Place ($10,000): The Adaptive Guitar is an electromechanical system designed to allow disabled musicians to play the guitar with one hand (and a foot). This system strums the strings of a guitar while the musician frets each string.

Tipo : Braille Smartphone Keypad

Fifth Place ($5,000): Tipo is effectively a Braille USB keyboard designed for smartphones. The advent of touchscreen-only phones has unfortunately left the visually impaired without a modern phone. Tipo allows for physical interaction with modern smartphones.

Best Product Winner: Tipo : Braille Smartphone Keypad

The winner of the Best Product is Tipo : Braille Smartphone Keypad. Tipo is the solution to the problem of the increasingly buttonless nature of modern smartphones. A phone that is only a touchscreen cannot be used by the visually impaired, and Tipo adds a Braille keypad to the back of any phone. It is effectively a USB keypad, designed for Braille input, that attaches to the back of any phone.

The Best Product competition ran concurrently with the five challenge rounds and asked entrants to go beyond prototype to envision the user’s needs, manufacturing, and all that goes into getting to market. By winning the Best Product competition, the creators of Tipo will refine their design, improve their mechanical build, start looking at injecton molding, and turn their 3D printed prototype into a real product that has the ability to change lives.

Congratulations to all who entered the Hackaday Prize. Taking time to apply your skill and experience to making the world better is a noble pursuit. It doesn’t end with the awarding of a prize. We have the ability to change lives by supporting one another, improving on great ideas, and sharing the calling to Build Something that Matters.