How autonomous robots can boost marine research

New York, Feb 24 (IANS) The use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) — programmable robotic vehicles that can independently study the ocean and its inhabitants — can improve scientists’ understanding of the marine environment, says a study.

Scientists have been using AUVs to collect marine data but due to the time-consuming process of analysis, they often lose the ability to use it in real-time.

Mark Moline, director of the School of Marine Science and Policy in University of Delaware, and his team tried to resolve this issue by linking multi-sensor systems aboard an AUV to enable the vehicle synthesise data in real-time and make independent decisions about its next move.

According to University of Delaware, the researchers programmed a modular AUV called REMUS600 to autonomously make decisions and trigger new missions based on biological information — such as a certain size or concentration of squid — in its environment.

When acoustic sensors aboard the vehicle detected the right size and concentration of squid, it triggered a second mission: to report the robot’s position in the water and then run a preprogrammed grid to map the area in finer detail.

The higher-level scan revealed a very concentrated collection of squid in one area and a second less tightly woven mass of similarly sized squid as the scan moved north to south.

According to Moline, who co-authored a paper published in the peer-reviewed Robotics journal, these details might have been missed if the REMUS600 was only programmed to keep travelling on a straight line.

“It was a really simple test that demonstrated that it’s possible to use acoustics to find a species, to have an AUV target specific sizes of that species, and to follow the species, all without having to retrieve and reprogram the vehicle to hunt for something that will probably be long gone by the time you are ready,” he explained.

“Imagine what else could we learn if the vehicle was constantly triggering new missions based on real-time information,” Moline added.

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