At the world’s deepest cave pit, a robot aids researchers in breaking a record.

A special natural wonder that is not (yet) popular on Instagram is located in the small Czech city of Hranice. A team of experts just broke a record by learning more about the depth of the Hranice Abyss, the world’s deepest underwater cave pit.

This cave pit is said to have been created by the sinkhole-like structure of the earth layer collapsing, exposing the vertically stacked enormous body of water beneath. The abyss may be deeper than 1000 meters, according to the most recent estimations based on the temperature and chemical study of the water.

Numerous excursions have been made in an effort to learn more and more about the Hranice Abyss. Based on observations made by divers up to a depth of about 180 meters, the first maps were created. Krzysztof Starnawski launched a probe in 2014 from a height of 217 meters, which traveled 384 meters. Even though it extended well beyond what would be humanly conceivable, it was still unable to see the cave’s floor.

In cooperation with the Czech Speleological Society, UNEXMIN GeoRobotics, and the University of Miskolc, a group of Portuguese researchers from the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC) deployed the UX-1Neo robot, which has a reach of 450 meters, on August 1st.

deepest cave pit

UX-1Neo is a hybrid ROV/AUV robot that can operate either autonomously or with remote supervision. Its advanced navigation and sensors allow it to obtain a precise perception of the environment and to know its position precisely, this was proven to be a crucial advantage in exploring the Czech wonder.

In addition to breaking the exploration record, UX-1Neo provided a detailed map of the cave, which was impossible to achieve before.

“The Remotely Operated Vehicle—ROV did not have a positioning and navigation system, so it could only be piloted by a very experienced operator, based on the images transmitted by the robot,” explains Alfredo Martins, researcher from INESC TEC. UX-1Neo stands out for being an “underwater robot with precise positioning, and having unique characteristics allowing it to perform missions where no other robot can operate”.

The exploration of underwater caves is not exactly straightforward. For starters, they are not straight but rather narrow zig-zagging tunnels where the light gets dimmer and dimmer as one gets farther from the surface. Also, the geological structures might be unstable and even collapse, which presents a serious threat to both divers and robots, not to mention branches, twigs, and other debris that the dark waters hide and can get explorers and vehicles stuck in its depth.

The UX-1Neo is packed with features that make it the most technologically advanced underwater vehicle considering its volume and weight. It has built-in sonars, cameras, thrusters, structured light systems, floating systems and much more. It even also features a Hyperspectral unit that collects and processes information from across the electromagnetic spectrum. But what can these sensors tell about the pits and caves the UX-1Neo can explore?

“The UX-1Neo incorporates six structured light systems that allow us to build a detailed 3D map of the area we are exploring. During our mission in Czechia, we were able to create such a map in two days, something that the community has been trying to achieve for 50 years”, adds Alfredo Martins.

“The mission made it possible to successfully explore the cave up to 450 meters,” achieving the UNEXUP project’s goals which are “to create a new mine mapping service based on a new class of autonomous underwater robots capable of exploring up to a thousand meters of depth, obtaining relevant information such as structural state and map of the same (allowing to know if there were landslides or other problems) and geological information important to determine existence of mineral resources of economic interest, which would otherwise be more difficult and dangerous to obtain or would have higher costs.”

Humans’ desire for the unknown is what motivates cave exploration. The history of the world can be accessed through underwater cave pits, especially ones that are as deep as the one in Hranice. Its cold, dark waters hold unprocessed knowledge about how the planet and life have changed over time, typically with little to no human interference. Even though Voyager 1 will travel 10.4 billion kilometers through space, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about our tiny blue planet.

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