Before we even start things off here, I just want to make something clear: there are no biometrics this time around. The Marsupial robots aren't based off any real world wildlife; their designs don't draw on the natural world. That doesn't mean they aren't still awesome, of course. It's hard not to be at least a little impressed by a completely autonomous, solar-powered robot boat and hexacopter team.
The duo was created by ECHORD (The European Clearing House for Open Robotics Development), and is collectively referred to as Riverwatch. It has since been transferred to UNINOVA over in Portugal, where research is still ongoing. Not surprisingly, the duo is primarily concerned with monitoring rivers and lakes, but it could easily be adapted to gather oceanic data, as well. The "marsupial" bit refers to the way the copter interacts with the boat; it uses the larger vehicle as a sort of 'pouch' when it isn't flying around gathering information. Yeah...it's a bit of a weird metaphor, isn't it?
According to Echord, "The multi-robot system will be composed of an autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) piggybacked on it. The UAV overcomes the limitations imposed from observing the environment from the low vantage point provided by the ASV. Conversely, the ASV being equipped with a solar panel is able to perform energy harvesting for itself and for the UAV, which is a key factor for a long-lasting operation."
"The project will exploit this symbiotic partnership by covering perception, navigation, coordination, and technological integration aspect, it continues." A particular aspect to be taken into account is the interaction of robots to take the best of the complementary visual perspectives they have of the environment. The goal is to use an aerial perspective to promote on-water safe navigation. In the application scenario, the robotic team, moving downriver, assesses a series of environmental variables. In case a pollution indicator is triggered the aerial platform is asked to perform a local survey. This information is passed on to a remote control centre, where a human operator is monitoring and configuring the mission."
Ultimately, the team behind RIVERWATCH hopes that their project will have an impact on all schools of environmental thought, including "environmental, technological, and application dimensions."
I'm sure at least a few of you are disappointed that RIVERWATCH isn't actually some sort of mechanical kangaroo, but the actual design is at least as cool, right? At the very least, the whole project is likely to lead to great things in the field of environmental science, and robotics as a whole. That, my friends, is definitely something to be excited about.