Saturday, August 3, 2013

Robotics at Sea: Supply Bots

Editor's Note: Operating a warship -- or any large vessel, for that matter -- is a very manpower intensive endeavor.  Although automation has improved engineering in particular, the basic functions of operating, maintaining, and cleaning a ship have remain relatively unchanged since steam replaced sail as a source of power.  Pile on training and war-fighting functions, and today's combatants require tireless efforts by their over-taxed crews, which have been reduced in the past decade for the sake of cost savings.   

The blog has discussed numerous air, surface, and undersea unmanned technologies that have begun to make their mark on naval operations.  The impact on robotics on naval technologies is not limited solely to vehicles. Here, LT Scott Cheney-Peters discusses a robotic technology that may assist future sailors with logistics management:

If you haven’t spent much time aboard a naval vessel, the Supply Department is the part of the ship charged with managing spare parts and ordering more. The Supply Department’s spaces also have a strange tendency to be the first fitted out with the nicest kit and upgrades. So it wouldn’t shock me to one day stroll in and find something like this:

A voice-activated storage unit with to help keep track of thousands of parts:

According to Danh Trinh, creator of the StorageBot:
The hardest parts to find were always those rare miscellaneous parts that were thrown somewhere into a “junk” bin. StorageBot solves the location problem by listening to my voice commands, processing the location of parts from a master database and then delivering the matching bins in a manner that only a robot can do!

Of course all the normal disclaimers bear stating: the system would need to be ruggedized, would likely have sea state restrictions, and each user would need to set up their voice recognition. Then again there’s the question of whether such a system would be worth it, or even practical. At a COTS or DIY price of roughly $700 (according to a article I can no longer access) the monetary burden doesn’t appear to high, and after all, Supply could never let one of the other shipboard “shops” get their hands on this tech first.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for International Maritime Security.