The EVE platform was designed for multiple applications: to better map the seas; to collectively scan large swaths of ocean seabed, perhaps for a lost plane or black box; to inspect the hulls of small ships for contraband or to find cracks in nuclear reactors—even to help fight ocean pollution by testing water quality in remote locations that may house delicate reefs.
“The underwater drones being used today are mostly large, expensive vehicles that cannot inspect small, hidden areas or objects,” says Bhattacharyya. “With EVEs, we won’t have to risk human and animal lives for such tasks—for example, the way dolphins have been used by militaries.”
Bhattacharyya was just named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and awarded $50,000 from the MassChallenge startup competition. But she calls herself an unlikely entrepreneur unexpectedly inspired by robotics and the mystery of the ocean. “I came to MIT from a background in electrical engineering with the intent of working on nuclear projects,” she says.
Experts in the field have called the project exciting. But there is some concern that the variety of attachable sensors—for example, video cameras—that will make the EVE platform useful will not be inexpensive, especially if the water is murky, says Jules S. Jaffe of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “We currently have no acoustic cameras that are low-power and inexpensive enough to suit a price tag of under $10,000," he says.
For Jaffe and his colleagues, creating small underwater drones is the easy part: it’s the sensors, rechargeable batteries and navigation systems that will require most of Hydroswarm’s money and creativity.
Toward that end, Bhattacharyya is moving full-speed ahead and says that select user groups are already privately testing the EVE platform. She expects the drones to be available next year for about $1,000 to $1,500 each.
What the specific sensors will cost, and everything that they will be able to accomplish, is still unknown. But Bhattacharyya hopes that one day she may use them to map the deepest ocean chasm: the Mariana Trench.
“We know so much more about space than we know about our oceans,” she says. “We're diving deep to see what we can find.”