In the world of underwater robots, this is a team of pioneers. While most ocean robots require periodic communication with scientist or satellite intermediaries to share information, these can work cooperatively communicating only with each other.
Over the past five years Kristi Morgansen, a University of Washington assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, has built three Robofish that communicate with one another underwater. Recently at the International Federation of Automatic Control's Workshop on Navigation, Guidance and Control of Underwater Vehicles she presented results showing that the robots had successfully completed their first major test. The robots were programmed to either all swim in one direction or all swim in different directions, basic tasks that can provide the building blocks for coordinated group movement.
This success in indoor test tanks, she said, will eventually provide the basis for ocean-going systems to better explore remote ocean environments.
"Underwater robots don't need oxygen. The only reason they come up to the surface right now is for communication," Morgansen said. Her robots do not need to come to the surface until their task is complete.
In the future, ocean-going robots could cooperatively track moving targets underwater, such as groups of whales or spreading plumes of pollution, or explore caves, underneath ice-covered waters, or in dangerous environments where surfacing might not be possible. Schools of robots would be able to work together to do things that one could not do alone, such as tracking large herds of animals or mapping expanses of pollution that can grow and change shape.
Co-authors on the recent study were UW doctoral students Daniel Klein and Benjamin Triplett in aeronautics and astronautics, and UW graduate student Patrick Bettale in electrical engineering. The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Ai
|Contact: Hannah Hickey|
University of Washington