Jan 26, 2017 | By Benedict

Engineers from the Austrian University of Innsbruck have created a 3D printed ROV called ArcheoRov that is capable of swimming to 100-meter depths and capturing images. The vehicle could be used by marine biologists, environmentalists, or even search and rescue teams.

The 3D printed ArcheoRov vehicle

If, in the near future, you happen to be swimming in the Alpine lakes of Trentino, Italy, and if you so happen to swim past a remotely operated underwater vehicle that swims like a fish, here’s an interesting fact you can note: you just swam past the first 3D printed ROV. Chances are you won’t be doing that, but the fact remains: the “Arc Team” from the Austrian University of Innsbruck, in collaboration with the Witlab 3D printing bureau in Rovereto, Italy, has just built what is probably the first 3D printed ROV, an all-seeing, all-swimming robo-fish called “ArcheoRov.”

Built at Witlab, a makerspace and 3D printing bureau in Rovereto, ArcheoRov came about through the work of a number of contributors: students from the Austrian University of Innsbruck (known as the “Arc Team”), science students from Rovereto, and staff at Witlab, who together designed and built the customized ROV over a period of just 10 weeks. During those weeks, the team was able to make an ROV that is unique in many ways. For starters, it is the first of its kind to be made from 3D printed parts, its makers say; secondly, it is designed to swim, rather than stay in one place.

According to Witlab’s Dr Emanuele Rocco, another crucial feature of ArcheoRov is its ability to orient its body up or down in order to capture the perfect shot on either of its two cameras. With the power to “tip itself on end and sink or rise in seconds,” the 3D printed vehicle can carry out sweeping visual surveys, which makes it much more suitable for certain image capturing projects than standard ROVs.

ArcheoRov can plumb 100-meter depths. Soon it could reach 350 meters.

Since ArcheoRov is designed to be used in hard-to-reach areas like underwater caves and shipwrecks, it needs to be relatively compact—and compact it is, small enough to be tucked away in a backpack. The 3D printed underwater vehicle houses two (relatively large) batteries contained inside in sealed, pressure-resistant units, and carries three compact 130W T100 electric thrusters, two at the front facing forward and one at the rear facing down. These thrusters each contribute 2.36 kg of push, enough to tow a WiFi communication buoy floating above.

As mentioned, the impressive ArcheoRov could not have been brought to Alpine waters without the assistance of 3D printing, a technology that was used to prototype early designs and eventually fabricate parts for the current model. The Arc Team was given full access to the rapid prototyping suite at Witlab, where its members were able to 3D print the plastic shell of the vehicle before milling down certain parts using on-site machinery.

Three 3D printed prototypes were assessed before a final design was chosen around week four, after which the remaining six weeks were spent refining the design and fitting it with motors and electronics. ArcheoRov made its first swim in an Alpine lake in Trentino, Italy, at an altitude of 2,400 meters. This version can swim down to depths of 100 meters, but the team thinks it can produce a better vehicle capable of plumbing 350-meter depths.

The Witlab makerspace where ArcheoRov was built

Excitingly for engineers interested in ArcheoRov, the team has made the entire design open source, allowing likeminded engineers and scientists to refine and modify the vehicle as they see fit using the Robot Operating System (ROS), a set of open-source software libraries and tools. “This is important because by doing so we are enabling the developer community to easily add their custom software extensions or even make ArcheoROV semiautonomous,” Rocco said.

The team behind ArcheoRov are confident that the affordable swimming vehicle will entice organizations of various shapes and sizes to get involved with the project. Rocco notes that marine biologists, pollution monitoring groups, and even search and rescue teams could benefit from using the new vehicle, which can function as a kind of underwater drone.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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