Next-gen underwater drone: Hydroswarm sea drone to sniff out drugs and mines
The football-sized Hydroswarm underwater smart-drone Evie, is capable of operating independently for ocean exploration missions Hydroswarm

A new generation of Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) devices is to hit the market soon, thanks to a new tech startup. The artificial intelligence compatible underwater drones have the potential to create a boom in underwater drone technology, similar to the kind recently noticed in aerial drones.

Hydroswarm has developed the drones for extensive underwater ocean exploration and data accumulation of unchartered ocean landscapes. However, the practical applications of the smart device can be far-reaching and revolutionise the underwater exploration technology industry.

The startup is dedicated to building smart underwater drones that are capable of mapping out ocean floors, locating lost equipment underwater, detect mines and scan ship hulls for illegal drugs. The comparatively affordable and simple to build drones could open up a wide range of possibilities for underwater drone technology and ocean exploration.

Indian engineer and entrepreneur Sampriti Bhattacharyya, the founder of Hydroswarm, developed the underwater drone at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a contraption that would be capable of detecting cracks or fissures in nuclear reactor tanks.

Practical applications

Bhattacharyya realised the true potential of her device in providing a cost-effective way of mapping ocean floors and identifying hitherto undetected underwater landscapes when she came across an article about a US Navy project that involved making use of dolphins to discover hidden land mines. She said: "That made me realise that my robot could be very useful. It is so cheap and easy to make, I could actually make a bunch of them and they could spread out and scan ship hulls."

The football-sized drones are called Ellipsoidal Vehicle for Inspection and Exploration, fondly shortened to Evie. At present, Bhattacharyya is working on a prototype of Evie, which will hopefully, provide a much more affordable means by which to chart underwater territory, the Guardian reported.

The underwater drones could be used for salvage and rescue missions as well. For instance, recovering lost ships or aircraft, such as the MH370, would be made much easier using the interchangeable sensor technology in-built in Evie. Unlike current UUVs, Hydroswarm's drones claim to have more flexibility in terms of movement underwater, and are designed to work independently apart from being much smaller in size.

Beta testing underway

According to Bhattacharyya, the drones could also be used to measure underwater pollution levels from oil spills by making use of its compatibility with sensors. The drones can be operated individually as well as in groups. Although Evie comes equipped with cameras, it can only work in areas that have access to natural light. Below that, it uses ultrasound sensors to capture and transmit images underwater.

The underwater drones are currently being tested for safety and accuracy in labs. Bhattacharya intends to make a public launch in the next 18 months. However, she is aware of the kind of challenges her startup will be faced with in the interim. She said: "Most of us don't know much about the ocean and there will be a lot of new difficulties we have no idea how to deal with; that we will have to encounter when we put it in the middle of the ocean."