AI for Munitions Recovery

More than 1 million tons of munitions dumped in the North and Baltic Seas during and after the two World Wars pose a threat to both humans and the environment. So far, trained divers have been used to recover the ammunition, but robots will begin to take on this challenging and potentially dangerous task.

The technologies required are being developed by the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), headed by Dr. Frank Kirchner in the CleanSeas project. Thanks to AI, the robotic systems should be able to detect ordnance underwater and prepare its removal autonomously.

To advance research in this field, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the CleanSeas project with about €1 million from January 1, 2023 to December 31, 2025. The project aims to create the technological basis to enable robots to autonomously detect and handle critical infrastructures underwater.

DFKI’s Robotics Innovation Center is developing AI solutions for: precise navigation in the close range of critical objects; 3D reconstruction of objects using various sensors; and whole-body control for (partially) autonomous object manipulation. The Cuttlefish AUV developed at DFKI serves as the robotic test platform. The innovative robot has two deep-sea gripping systems for flexible handling of objects underwater. Thanks to its special design and AI-based control, it can change its center of gravity and buoyancy during a dive and assume any orientation.

The technologies developed will initially be tested under controllable laboratory conditions.The researchers have access to the DFKI’s Maritime Exploration Hall in Bremen, which is unique in Europe. The plan is to sink old ammunition in the 8-m-deep saltwater basin, which contains 3.4 million liters of saltwater.

The robotic solutions envisioned in the CleanSeas project could not only be an important tool for solving the munitions problem in the world’s oceans but also to promote the expansion of renewable energies and the sustainable use of maritime resources. For instance, these technologies could be used to advance the development of robots that autonomously perform maintenance and inspection work for offshore wind farms, green hydrogen terminals or aquaculture.

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