US-based electronics manufacturer RE2 Robotics has secured a Phase II small business innovation research (SBIR) award for the development of an inflatable underwater dual manipulator system.

Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) divers are often open to dangers while carrying out underwater location and identification of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on vessels, bridges, as well as underwater structures, such as piers.

RE2 Robotics will deploy a cost-effective and reliable manipulation system onto an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), thereby ensuring stand-off capabilities that robotic systems have brought to EOD technicians operating on land to those operating underwater.

The Phase II will focus on the development and testing of the prototype, which is to be built for the US Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The manipulator arms will eventually be used as a collaborative robotic system to support EOD divers in dismantling IEDs and other hazards.

"By extending our manipulation capabilities into submersible space we are able to enter new markets which rely on the safe inspection, maintenance and repair of underwater structures."

RE2 Robotics president and CEO Jorgen Pedersen said: “Developing robotic technologies that keep individuals out of harm's way is paramount to the mission of RE2 Robotics.

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“Historically, we have developed manipulation systems for EOD ground robots. Over the past year, we have worked closely with the Navy to transition our expertise to underwater systems.”

“By extending our manipulation capabilities into the submersible space we are able to enter new markets, such as offshore oil and gas, which rely on the safe inspection, maintenance and repair of underwater structures.

“Providing dexterous manipulation capabilities to this class of UUVs will open up a new realm of capabilities and applications for unmanned systems.”

Phase I saw RE2 Robotics engineers develop an inflatable underwater dual manipulation system with the intention of offering lightweight and low-cost underwater dexterous manipulation that can be easily integrated as a payload for UUVs.