Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Education

USF underwater robot takes to Twitter

From the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, a solar-powered robot is sending a message — in 140 characters or less.

Yes, the newest member of the University of South Florida marine science fleet of underwater research sensors has taken to Twitter.

It has even mastered the use of hashtags.

But don't expect juicy gossip or sexy photos from @Tavros02.

Its approach is more of the "here's-what-I-had-for-breakfast," if you will.

Mundane, and maybe a little bit TMI.

Every 20 minutes, Tavros02's 45 followers get an update on its exact location and the temperature, saltiness and pressure of the water around it.

Take this one, sent at 3:30 p.m.: "TIME=15:29:32 LAT=27.761809 LON=-82.634990 HEAD=287.30 ALT=2.71 DEP=1.14 TEM=26.16 CON=46075 #USF #AUV."

"We're kind of geeks in some ways," said Tavros02's inventor, USF marine systems engineer David Fries. "Both the environment and machines are things we don't naturally communicate with."

Fries says Tavros02's tweeting is more than a novelty. He envisions the messages being used to give researchers alerts about oil spills or red tides, to give fishing reports, to alert port officials about possible security breaches or to educate students.

"It becomes a really interesting way to distribute messages to a whole group of people," Fries said.

His team has spent more than a decade developing the underwater sensing technology that brought to life Tavros02, whose name is Greek for bull and also an acronym for The Autonomous Vehicle and Remotely-Operated Sensing.

The robot is just one of many that USF's marine science researchers work with, boosted with a grant from the National Science Foundation in the months following the 2010 BP oil spill in the gulf.

USF gliders helped detect and analyze underwater oil plumes that summer, showing the extent of the contamination.

But aside from the scientific opportunities, Tavros02's independent tweeting also prompts a heady conversation about communication in general.

It's not just for humans anymore.

#mindblown

"You have this real sense that it's something that has pseudo-intelligence in there," Fries said. He pointed out that in a conversation with a reporter, they've been referring to Tavros02 as a "he."

"It's more personal."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.

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