A new underwater vehicle worth almost $1 million that can be programmed to travel to San Francisco Bay or San Diego Bay has arrived at Cal Poly.
Cal Poly faculty and students will use the yellow, torpedo-shaped vehicle to research ocean conditions such as currents, the presence of invasive species and a possible El Niño winter.
Biology professor Mark Moline received a $650,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Cal Poly kicked in an additional $350,000 for the vehicle.
Called REMUS 600, which stands for Remote Environmental Measuring Units, the vehicle was designed by the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and manufactured by the company Hydroid.
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An unmanned, underwater vehicle program at Cal Poly has existed since 2001 in which students have participated in programming, troubleshooting and analyzing data on underwater missions.
Moline said the university already has used smaller unmanned vehicles on more than 200 missions — which have included research of sewage around Avila Bay and an examination of old pier pilings near the Cal Poly Pier.
Both undergraduate and graduate students have worked on the underwater missions.
“This is a unique opportunity for college students to get to work with something that often (professional) engineers are involved with,” Moline said.
Moline said the vehicle is operated by a computer program that sets its route. Within four kilometers it can be traced by an acoustic signal.
REMUS 600 can travel up to 400 miles, and batteries allow it to endure 70 hours in the ocean. The vehicle is about 11 feet long and weighs more than 500 pounds.
Cal Poly will be relaying information about ocean currents on its missions for the U.S. Navy, and data will help better forecast California’s oceanic conditions, Moline said.
Cal Poly computer engineering students have designed some of the programming that the university’s smaller vehicles have used in the past and could have the chance to design technology for this vehicle.
Moline said his specialty is researching single-cell plants and the toxins they emit. These toxins can be harmful to sea lions and shell fish.
The first step for the vehicle, the professor said, will be to set its navigation devices for compassing before embarking on missions.
“This vehicle has come in a pretty basic form, and we’ll be adding some bells and whistles to really enhance its capabilities,” Moline said.