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Ex-NASA engineers are building a 'revolutionary' underwater 'transformer'


Optimus Prime, eat your heart out.

Houston Mechatronics, led by ex-NASA engineers, announced what it calls a "revolutionary underwater robot" earlier this month, known as Aquanaut. The robot is designed for work in both the military and oil industry and can transform into two modes: an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV).

“We firmly believe that this technology is a revolution in subsea robotics, said Houston Mechatronics CEO Matthew Ondler in a statement on the company's website. "Aquanaut, and our tightly coupled over-the-horizon software Commander, enables Houston Mechatronics to deliver more feature rich, safer subsea services to commercial and defense customers that demand it.”


Ondler added: "Aquanaut represents the pinnacle of our company’s expertise and experience and we are beyond excited to introduce this vehicle to customers.”

Last week, the company posted a video to its YouTube channel to show off Aquanaut:

Speaking with LiveScience, Houston Mechatronics's spokesman  Sean Halpin said the 2,315-pound robot represents an advancement over what's currently in the market.

"When Aquanaut moves through the water, we want as little drag as possible to extend the maximum range of what the vehicle can do on battery power," Halpin said. "By enclosing the limbs, we're able to operate the vehicle over great distances, up to 200 kilometers [124 miles]."

Halpin added that Aquanaut also has two key selling points that may appeal to potential customers: the aforementioned range and its arms. In AUV mode, its arms reached 9 feet 6 inches and in ROV mode, they extend another 2 feet, bringing its total reach to 11 feet 6 inches.

Nic Radford, Houston Mechatronic's CTO, said that the company "saw a great opportunity" to alter the commercial and defense subsea markets with Aquanaut and believes that the new robot will help cut down on costs.

"We have removed the need for onsite vessels (and people) from subsea work while still maintaining the operator’s situational awareness and the ability to modify missions, which our customers demand," he said in the statement, adding that the company's capability "can truly transform industries."


Halpin said that Aquanaut is designed to make any adjustments to itself and repair itself if needed, given that it will likely be operating many miles away from its human operators.

The company said it will present the Aquanaut, which is being funded by the Defense Department and the oil industry according to Defense One, at upcoming conferences in both Houston and Denver.
It's expected to be marketed to Houston Mechatronic clients sometime later this year.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia