Friday, February 03, 2006

Underwater Autonomous Robot Finds Ancient Greek Shipwreck

After lying hidden for centuries off the coast of Greece, a sunken 4th century B.C. merchant ship and its cargo have been surveyed by an international team using a robotic underwater vehicle. The team accomplished in two days what it would take divers years to do.

The Chios wreck demonstrates how advanced technology can dramatically change the field of underwater archeology, completing in two days what would have taken SCUBA divers using conventional methods years to accomplish.

Using a novel autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) named SeaBED developed and operated by Wodds Hole Oceanographic Institutue, WHOI, the team made a high-precision photometric survey of the site using techniques developed by WHOI and MIT researchers over the past eight years.

For a single three-hour dive, SeaBED was programmed to “fly” over the shipwreck site in precisely spaced tracks. Multibeam sonar completely mapped the wreck while a digital camera collected thousands of high-resolution images. The vehicle took 7,650 images on four dives to reveal the ship's ceramic cargo and marine life, including bright yellow sponges and colorful fish. The vehicle did not touch the wreck, leaving it in an undisturbed state, important for future studies.

Robotic technology is the only way to reach deep shipwrecks like the one at Chios, but the systems can also be applied to shallower sites.

“By using this technology, diving archeologists will be freed from routine measuring and sketching tasks, and instead can concentrate on the things people do better than robots: excavation and data interpretation,” contends Singh, an engineering and imaging scientist. “With repeated performances, we'll be able to survey shipwrecks faster and with greater accuracy than ever before.”

WHOI : Media Relations : News Release : Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Maps Ancient Greek Shipwreck



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