Ace spelunker/space-hopeful Bill Stone, profiled in PopSci's February issue, completed the initial field test of DepthX, his autonomous underwater robot, this week in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. If you've read the article, you'll know that the idea is to work the kinks out of this 'bot so that it might later become a model for systems that could be used to explore one of Jupiter's moons, Europa, which is covered in ice but believed to be home to a subterranean sea.
After a bit of drama at the border (they were hauling a giant ovoid robot in a flatbed truck, after all), Stone's team arrived in Mexico and camped out at Rancho la Azufroza, where they spent several days assembling the robot and testing DepthX's sighting and maneuvering capabilities in an underwater cave called La Pilita.
The 'bot plunged to a depth of about 300 feet, captured images [here] and video [see below], and built a 3-D map of the cenote while the team tracked its functions remotely, from an above-ground computer screen. They collected data and some samples from the floor of the cave and confirmed that everything was in working order – overall, a grand success. [Read a complete account of the trip on Stone's blog, here.
Next month we'll cover part two of the testing mission, and then in May, the most ambitious expedition, in which DepthX will attempt to autonomously navigate to a depth of more than 1,000 feet in Zacaton, the world's deepest sinkhole. View a slideshow of images from the most recent mission here, and watch a video of the adventure here.
© 2007 Popular Science