Autonomous robots that are currently being developed and researched by MIT has been recently updated to now perform various mode shifting maneuvers. Using several separate units, the “auto-boats” can transform into different configurations depending on the required assembly.
Last 2016, MIT first developed a prototype miniature robotic water vehicle that demonstrated capabilities which allow it to drive itself autonomously. Fitted with various sensors, microcontrollers, GPS modules, cameras, as well as other navigation hardware, it demonstrated the possibilities of industrialized boats that no longer require the active control of a human operator.
The main research factor of the robots was cost, as later on, a 3D-printed, smaller-scale version was developed. Not only did it feature the same automated navigational capabilities, but the enhanced tracking hardware and software, combined with the reduced form factor, made it a lot more efficient and agile.
This year, the newest milestone was the development of several of these small units that can coordinate in an automated manner. Rather than directing the robots with specific instructions, the robots were simply given the end task, which they would then optimize by calculating the best course with the best configuration that can be applied for that specific objective.
For example, if the robots are tasked to navigate around a traversable perimeter, the robots would form distinct shapes, the configuration of which corresponding to the shape and size of the path it has calculated.
As shown in this particular test, the robots optimized their tasks by forming the three boats into an L-shaped configuration while it is moving around the rectangular area of the pool.
In another configuration, the robots formed into a side-by-side mode, while plowing through the intended course in a straight line.
So what’s the deal with robotic boats forming shapes while moving around autonomously? One practical concept in mind is to use a larger fleet of robotic boats to form a dynamic bridge. Bridge designs can vary depending on many different variables related to the body of water it will be constructed on. It is expected, in theory at least, that the robots could autonomously calculate all of the necessary variables, so that the fleet can create the best possible bridge shape for any configuration needed on any body of water.
Of course, the original intention to use them for more industrial purposes, such as cargo delivery vehicles on harbors, could still conceivably apply. Better yet, with these near-perfectly coordinated robots, sealane traffic might be introduced to the zero latency efficiencies already presented on driverless car economy concepts several years prior.