MIT researchers are testing robotic kayaks that cooperate to autonomously complete tasks. They're using $500 plastic kayaks as test SCOUTs (Surface Crafts for Oceanographic and Undersea Testing) to hone their hardware and software. Eventually, hey hope to install the systems on much more expensive autonomous underwater vehicles designer for search and rescue or mine sweeping. Of the ten SCOUTs built so far, four are owned by the Naval Underwater Warfare Center which, er, probably has its own ideas for them. From the MIT News Office:
Operating on the surface means that SCOUTs can take advantage of such technology as wireless Internet and global positioning systems (GPS), which don't work underwater. Researchers are thus free to focus on fine-tuning other necessary robot functions, such as navigation — all with the goal of creating a team that works so seamlessly that a lot of communication isn't necessary.
"In order to be effective with robots in the water, you'd best not have a plan that relies on a lot of communication," (MIT research engineer Joseph) Curcio said. "To be effective with a fleet of vehicles and have them do something intelligent, what you really need to do is have the software be so robust that communication between the vehicles can be kept to a minimum."