Autonomous Angels of Maintenance

[Image: Undersea robots guard the internet; image via Wired UK].

In what appears to be a sponsored post, a short article published on Wired UK presents an interesting scene in which semi-autonomous robots protect undersea internet cables from harm—that is, "dexterous robots toil at the bottom of the sea to safeguard the web."

As the CEO of a company called Global Marine Systems explains, submarine cables "the width of a human hair" support 95% of the world's internet traffic. Thus, "to cope with the demand for cable repairs," the company has "invested in a number of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) at our facility in Portland, Dorset." They continue:
ROVs act like underwater robots, and are used to locate cable breaks on the seabed... and repair them. Once the ROV is lowered into the sea, a pilot on board one of our cable ships controls it to find the fault location and fix it.
The idea that little machine-guardians at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, like mechanical demiurges on the invisible edge of the world, are at least partially responsible for ensuring that this post can be read in Europe is a comforting thought before bed.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


Check out the 1970's eco sci/fi flick Silent Running, where Bruce Dern first programs Huey, Duey, and Louie to perform surgery on him and then to tend the trees while Joan Baez caterwauls in the background.

February 27, 2012 11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All Watched Over
by Machines of Loving Grace
by Richard Brautigan

I'd like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Reprinted in The Pill versus The Springhill Mine
Disaster, copyright 1968 by Richard Brautigan.

February 28, 2012 12:08 AM  
Blogger ivanpope said...

"submarine cables "the width of a human hair" support 95% of the world's internet traffic"

I think that's nonsense. There may be copper strands deep within cables that are almost that thin, but that has no bearing on what a submarine cable is, or how and why it has to be reparired. Submarine cables are big fat solid cables ...

February 28, 2012 7:59 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Anonymous (@ Feb 28, 12:08 AM), somewhat relatedly (though only tangentially), there's also a great line in a recent Luc Sante book: "It will be a better thing all around when bioengineering has refined the landscape so that people no longer need to coax proper behavior from its component parts. Someday you will be able to unscrew your trees, rotate your hedges, and shampoo your lawn." Not quite the same as machines of loving grace, on the other hand...

Ivan, I believe that reference is to the individual copper or fiber optic strands found within the otherwise rather massive cable, which you rightly point out is quite hefty.

February 29, 2012 12:24 PM  
Blogger Stephen Alexander said...

yes nonsense indeed. the fiberoptic filaments of the cable may be that thin, but the term cable refers to the collection of fibers in the aggregate.

February 29, 2012 7:28 PM  

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