Rice University's BayMax Team Develops InnovativeUnderwater ROV

Rice University's BayMax team develops an underwater ROV called Monarch, using reversible water-splitting fuel cells for energy-efficient buoyancy control. The innovative technology reduces energy consumption by up to 85% compared to traditional methods.

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Rice University's BayMax Team Develops InnovativeUnderwater ROV

Rice University's BayMax Team Develops InnovativeUnderwater ROV

A team of engineering students from Rice University, known as BayMax, has developed an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) called Monarch that utilizes reversible water-splitting fuel cells for energy-efficient buoyancy control. This innovative technology reduces energy consumption by up to 85% compared to traditional methods used in underwater ROVs and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs).

Why this matters: The development of thisenergy-efficient technology has significant implications for the future of underwater exploration and research, enabling longer and more cost-effective missions. Furthermore, the potential applications of this technology extend beyond underwater exploration, with possibilities for use in assistive wearable devices or robotic garments.

Ordinarily, underwater vehicles use powerful electric thrusters or pumps to draw water in and out of onboard ballast tanks to move vertically in the water column. In contrast, the Monarch employs four reversible water-splitting fuel cells that split liquid water into hydrogen and oxygen gas through electrolysis. This process allows the ROV to control its buoyancy by inflating or deflating balloons located on top of each cell.

The Monarch's innovative technology offers several key benefits. In addition to the significant reduction in energy consumption, the fuel cells are lighter and less expensive than vertical thrusters. The ROV also operates more quietly, reducing the likelihood of startling underwater wildlife. "The cool thing about this for us is that it's a technology that's really cutting edge, it's something that hasn't been done before exactly the way we're doing it," says BayMax member Andrew Bare.

The Monarch can maintain a horizontal level in the water by automatically activating individual cells as needed. It can also be set to hold the vehicle at any given depth, regardless of changes in buoyancy at different depths or in fresh versus salt water. The project is part of a collaborative effort between the labs of Rice University professors Fathi Ghorbel and Laura Schaefer, and the University of Houston's Prof. Zheng Chen.

The BayMax team, consisting of Andrew Bare, Spencer Darwall, Noah Elzner, Rafe Neathery, Ethan Peck, and Dan Zislis, worked together to bring this innovative project to life. They faced challenges in managing system interdependencies and determining a clear scope for the project. "With a project like this, integration was critical," Zislis said. "Another takeaway for me is the importance of determining a clear scope for any given project."

The base technology developed for the Monarch ROV could potentially find use in non-aquatic applications such as assistive wearable devices or robotic garments. In real-world applications, stronger bladders could be utilized in place of the rubber balloons used in the prototype. The Monarch's innovative use of reversible water-splitting fuel cells offers a significant improvement in energy efficiency and opens up exciting possibilities for future applications in underwater exploration and beyond.