Lying between Africa and Asia, the coastal zone of the Red Sea is an ecologically unique marine ecosystem that houses one of the most extensive, diverse, and colorful coral reefs in the world. The coral reef, with its many endemic species of marine invertebrates and fish, provides a vital research platform for studying how humans impact marine ecosystems.


Exploring and monitoring these oceanic resources, however, has remained expensive and challenging because it requires human divers who can only explore these environments during short periods of time and within limited depths. While underwater vehicles have proven to be very useful for safely exploring oceans at greater depths, they lack human dexterity, which is necessary for performing fine manipulation tasks like collecting reef samples. Furthermore, existing underwater robots are large and cumbersome, with mechanical characteristics that make them extremely difficult to operate in closely confined fragile spaces or turbulent fluid environments.

To help scientists safely explore the Red Sea’s fragile and previously inaccessible underwater environment, we propose to design a semi-autonomous underwater robotic explorer. The new vehicle will visually explore and image the sea, collect samples, perform manipulation tasks, and conduct various physical measurements in multiple marine ecosystems. The robot will combine two force-controlled lightweight arms that will be remotely operated using an intuitive two-handed haptic interface providing force-feedback guidance to the operator.


To do so, we will model the dynamic characteristics of the robot under aquatic conditions and develop new control schemes that can decouple fine manipulation tasks from global disturbances due to unpredictable currents acting on the robot explorer.