Monitoring of water quality and aquatic ecosystems is crucial to protect fragile marine ecosystems. With EU funding, innovative sub-aquatic and bio-inspired robots have been designed to protect flora and fauna, and monitor the impact of industry and tourism in Venice's fragile underwater world.

Published 5 October 2017
Updated 6 October 2017

Project subCULTron is an EU funded project which is part of  the H2020 research and innovation programme. The project aims to develop underwater robots that will be  placed in a marine setting to monitor water quality. The autonomous underwater robotic system is comprised of three groups of bio-inspired robots that monitor the marine environment in the Venice lagoon.

Our team's adventure started on 4  September 2017 in Zagreb where we assembled 18 aMussel robots, updated the aPads robots and checked the first functions of the novel aFish robot. Three days later, we moved our assembled robots to Venice. At last,our childhood-dream was about to come true: I wanted to know what was going underwater in the mysterious Venice canals  During the first dives, our robots delivered the first pictures of the underwater world of Venice waters, which are full of animal and plant life. They travelled 4-5 meters deep and recorded the first views of the highly diverse ecological niches of Venice waters. As the robots went deeper, the pictures and data changed dramatically, from rich and colourful life shortly below the surface to the sandy and muddy greenish habitats on the seabed. This was just the first step and confirmed the enormous potential of subCULTron project. The three novel subCULTon robot types, aPads, aMussels and aFish, were developed from scratch over a period of two and a half years. The Venice dive confirmed that the group of robots was the first autonomous robots to released “in the wild” and therefore ready to reach new frontiers.

Our first experiments took place in the channels of the historic Venice Arsenale.  Our aFish robots group dived down to the seabed, gathered information (photos, temperature data, turbidity/luminance) and came up again to dock with the aPad to recharge and transfer collected data. A number of other experiments were also performed mechanisms as well as the functioning of the group of aFish robots.

Finally, on 15 September  we were ready to show our subCULTron system to international journalists at our press event in the channels of the Arsenale. We demonstrated how powerful, innovative and promising the project subCULTron has already become. Journalists could watch the aPad navigating autonomously to a set of given GPS locations, aMussels docking and undocking to aPads and more! Journalists could send GPS coordinates to a docked aMussel robot, which then informed the aPad to bring it to a location in the Arsenale where it went down to monitor the sea bed. Once the aMussel resurfaced, a beep from the smartphones reminded the journalists to look at a tweet that the aMussel had just sent to them. Yes, our aMussels are on twitter and we use this social network (and also SMS text messages) to communicate with our robots and to let them report their collected data. This is one way we can communicate with the engineered robotic society underwater.

The impact that our first subCULTron presentation in Venice has gotten on international TV, radio and internet was amazing, with more than 70 news features across Europe. The high public interest in our subCULTron project is important for us, as a source of motivation, and also a motivation for our funding programme Future and Emerging Technologies ( FET) to support truly innovative science in Europe.

The subCULTron project was recently featured on the Euronews Futuris Programme. You can have a look at the robots in action on their website.