OceanOneK has managed to reach depths of close to 1 km

The underwater robot has multi-directional thrusters that allow careful maneuvering underwater.
Christopher McFadden
OceanOneK undergoing tests at the Avery Recreation Pool on Stanford campus. Swimming alongside the robot is Wesley Guo, a graduate student in the Stanford Robotics Lab.Andrew Brodhead/Stanford
  • OceanOneK was developed by the Stanford Robotics Lab team.
  • It has a humanoid upper half and a thinner back half with arms filled with oil and springs.
  • The robot explored a shipwreck hundreds of meters below the ocean waves.

In underwater exploration news, researchers from Standford University have recently announced the successful test of an underwater robot called OceanOneK.

Developed by the Stanford Robotics Lab team, OceanOneK, an underwater robot with human-like touch, vision, and interactivity, successfully explored a shipwreck hundreds of meters below the ocean waves.

OceanOneK has a humanoid upper half and a thinner back half with eight multi-directional thrusters that allow careful maneuvering underwater. The robot's haptic feedback technology and stereoscopic vision are able to generate amazingly lifelike sensations for remote users that can only be rivaled by actually diving down to a site yourself.

“You are moving very close to this amazing structure, and something incredible happens when you touch it: You actually feel it,” said Khatib, who is the Weichai Professor in the School of Engineering and director of the Stanford Robotics Lab. “I’d never experienced anything like that in my life. I can say I’m the one who touched the Crispi at 500 m. And I did – I touched it, I felt it.”

OceanOneK's objective is to explore uncharted depths and show that human touch, vision, and engagement can be conveyed to remote sites.

OceanOneK has had many adventures and successes throughout its recent multi-stop trips around the Mediterranean, but the team's overriding accomplishment was the recent fully functional autonomy of the drone at a depth of nearly 3,281 feet (1,000 m).

“This is the first time that a robot has been capable of going to such a depth, interacting with the environment, and permitting the human operator to feel that environment,” explained Khatib. “It has been an incredible journey.”

The first deep dive of the robot occurred in February of 2022

According to Stanford's press release, February's dive to the sunken wreck of the sunken Italian steamship Le Francesco Crispi was part of OceanOneK's multi-stop tour of the Mediterranean, which began in September 2021 with two trips near Marseille to a World War II P-38 Lightning aircraft and a submarine, Le Protée that lies at roughly 400 ft (124 m) depth. The third was a 2nd-century Roman ship in Aléria, Corsica at a depth of 1,100 feet (334 m).

The team then headed to Cannes in search of better weather conditions. There, the robot's boom camera viewed inside a 200-foot (67 m) depth Beechcraft Baron F-GDPV cockpit. The final dive was to 852 m, or over a half mile, where the crew found the robot unable to ascend.

OceanOneK was fully functional, however, the flotations around the communication and power cable had collapsed, pinning the connection to the robot. They continued diving after pulling in the slack.

OceanOneK's journey to 1 kilometer took years. It began with endless hours of design, experimentation, and assembly in the lab, dozens of trips to the Stanford pool for debugging, and myriad lessons-to-be-learned before addressing the real world.

Her predecessor, OceanOne, was designed to reach a maximum of 200 m, for example. To bring the robot deeper, researchers altered its body with a unique foam made of glass microspheres that offer buoyancy and can resist 100 times the pressure at sea level.

The robot's arms are filled with oil and springs that compress the oil to meet outside pressure, preventing collapse and cushioning the electronics. Researchers upgraded OceanOne's microscopic components to reduce the quantity of compressible air in each element and keep it compact.

OceanOneK had two new types of hands, one produced by Mark Cutkosky's team at Stanford and one by Professor Antonio Bicchi of the University of Pisa and IIT.

The recent voyage was a complete success

Following several months of refinement and testing, the team received a second chance to dive the Roman ship and the Crispi this summer. The team first sought to rescue an oil lamp from the Roman ship but failed.

A boom camera arm malfunctioned at the Crispi in February. July dives went smoothly.

OceanOneK dove again to the Roman ship under the team's archeologists' instruction and hauled up several Roman vases, including several not previously seen in DRASSM's collections. These extraordinary findings still bore the manufacturer's name and label, demonstrating the benefits of super-deep artifact recovery.

OceanOneK has managed to reach depths of close to 1 km
OceanOneK with its boom camera in hand near a Beechcraft Baron F-GDPV aircraft that was 200 feet (67 m) down.

Khatib, according to the press release, carefully extended the boom camera inside the Crispi's damaged hull on a second dive. The team's marine biologist supervised him as exterior corals gave way to inside rusticles, icicle-shaped rust formations caused by 80 years of bacterial interaction with the ship's iron.

Piedra remarked that in retrospect, he can understand how huge the hurdles they overcome were and how grand the work they did.

“We go all the way to France for the expedition and there, surrounded by a much larger team, coming from a wide array of backgrounds, you realize that the piece of this robot you’ve been working on at Stanford is actually part of something much bigger,” he said. “You get a sense of how important this is, how novel and significant the dive is going to be, and what this means for science overall.”

The OceanOne project combines breakthrough innovations in haptics, underwater robotics, and human-robot interaction with new marine science and underwater engineering prospects, such as inspecting and repairing boats, bridge piers, and submerged pipelines.

OceanOneK plans excursions to vanished towns in deep lakes, coral reefs, and archeologically significant wrecks at depths beyond human grasp.

“Distancing humans physically from dangerous and unreachable spaces while connecting their skills, intuition, and experience to the task promises to fundamentally alter remote work,” said Khatib. “Robotic avatars will search for and acquire materials, build infrastructure, and perform disaster prevention and recovery operations – be it deep in oceans and mines, at mountain tops, or in space.”

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