I reckon that the last time you heard the word ‘Black Pearl’, it would have been during the scene where two pirates Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa from The Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise were fighting to take control of the fictitious ‘nigh uncatchable’ ship. But here, we are talking about ‘Black Pearl’, an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) that is designed by Indian engineering students of the Mahindra Ecole Centrale (MEC) College in Hyderabad. This vehicle can control its movements and execute specific tasks without human intervention, the college says.
Before jumping on details of the Black Pearl, let's take a moment to understand what's an AUV. Just like autonomous vehicles that companies like Google are developing for commutation on roads, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, or AUV, is a vehicle that can operate independently of humans and are self-guiding and self-powered vehicles underwater. AUVs have a wide range of applications in marine sciences, and are increasingly being tested and used by commercial, civil and defence sectors. According to the students, the Black Pearl is an in-house project that integrates computer science, mechanical, electrical and electronics engineering.
Created by MEC students and mentored by their professors, the Black Pearl is a self-propelled, unmanned, untethered underwater vehicle capable of carrying out simple activities with little or no human supervision. The Black Pearl weighs 19.6 kgs and carries power onboard through a Lithium Polymer Battery. It is powered by NVidia Jetson Nano Single board computer and Arduino microcontroller. The free-swimming, untethered robot sports a Logical 270 vertical camera and Raspberry Pi V2 horizontal camera to take images.
Black Pearl is equipped with multiple thrusters that give it five degrees of freedom-Roll, Yaw, Surge, Heave and Sway, and it would soon have a manipulator/robotic arm so that it can acquire objects. The Jetson Nano and Camera would do the image processing tasks, and employ Neural Networks to help in the task of trajectory planning and optimization. The Rs 3,70,000 project is currently capable of carrying out navigational and other tasks pre-fed into its memory with good precision and near-zero error, the students claim.
They also say that the Black Pearl is currently capable of executing instructions that have been hard coded into it, with high accuracy and with minimal error. The team is developing additional features that would make the AUV capable of taking inputs from the sensors (Depth, Echosounder, Camera, etc.), process them, and based on the data, navigate its trajectory so that it can avoid obstacles, retrieve objects from the water floor and carry out dedicated missions. According to Dr Yajulu Medury, Director, Mahindra Ecole Centrale, the college’s students ‘exhibit strong interests in R&D and creativity in building workable prototype devices and gadgets.’
‘Black Pearl is another such product where the students and their academic and research mentors worked tirelessly at our Centre for Robotics and created a robust Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. We are very proud to be creating New Engineers who work on complex projects, sharpen their technical and project management skills becoming more competitive, innovative and future-ready, true to the ‘Rise’ philosophy of the Mahindra Group,’ Medury said.
The members of the team that created the AUV are: Naval Pattar (Fabrication), Nishith (Design), Pulkit (Simulations), Suresh (Control and Embedded Systems), Srikanth Gadde (Control and Embedded Systems), Kartikeya (Vision Systems), Sai Madhavan (Team Lead), and Sai Kiran Kumar(Deputy Team Lead).