After several years of playing with underwater robots, last week was a new dimension with learning to “fly” the Deepworker vehicles as part of the training for the upcoming Pavilion Lake field season. The training missions were conducted in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet over a five day period with myself and three other new pilots from the PLRP. The unique opportunity to operate these individual manned submersibles allows an unrivaled perspective in these underwater environments. The only unfortunate thing was that the perspective was somewhat myopic as the spring freshet (freshwater runoff during spring snowmelt) resulted in the water being quite turbid. On a good day, I was only able to see to the end of my camera. However, as you can see in the photo below, it is possible to just make out the reddish sea anemone positioned about 10 inches off the bow of the vehicle.
This type of exploration is also part of my ongoing personal research using humans and robots. For the past several years, as part of my doctorate, I have been involved with the deployment of UBC-Gavia, an untethered, autonomous underwater vehicle, in Pavilion Lake and many other places around the world. Last year, we were able to have both the Deepworker and UBC-Gavia in the water during the same time as you can see in the picture below. This year we’re planning to use Gavia and Deepworker in tandem to to explore incoming groundwater in the south basin of Pavilion Lake, which is an exciting opportunity for joint human/robotic exploration.
Pavilion Lake is a unique and exciting opportunity to use multiple vehicles for joint human/robotic science and exploration. Methods developed and lessons learnt from choreographing the increasingly specialized robots associated with this project (in terms of data collection, data management, logistics, etc.) would serve as a complementary model as humans reach towards manned flight to Mars and exploration of extra-terrestrial liquid bodies as potentially found on Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) or Enceladus (one of Saturn’s moons).