The Hydrus inspecting the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Photo: Supplied

A team of Australian robotics experts is fielding exploding demand for a portable, AI-driven underwater drone designed to make ocean exploration as accessible as quadcopter drones did for the skies.

The release of Hydrus, a specialised underwater robot small enough to be packed as carry-on luggage, marks a major milestone for Xavier Orr, a mechatronic engineer and robotics AI specialist who founded Sydney-based Advanced Navigation in late 2011.

Now employing around 100 people, Advanced Navigation’s AI-based inertial navigation systems leverage physics theories and data analytics techniques – explored in Orr’s University of Western Australia thesis – to precisely track movement in environments where external references like GPS are unavailable.

Whereas airborne drones use radiofrequency (RF) signals to carry high-resolution video and operator commands, water blocks RF…