Mark Moline and Kelly Benoit-Bird co-authored a paper on the advantage of linking multi-sensor systems aboard an AUV to enable the vehicle to synthesize sound data in real-time so that it can independently make decisions about what action to take next.
Mark Moline, a director of the School of Marine Science and Policy in the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, and Kelly Benoit-Bird, a colleague at Oregon State University got the idea while conducting distribution studies of marine organisms in the Tongue of the Ocean.
Tongue of the Ocean is a deep ocean trench that separates the Andros and New Providence islands in the Bahamas.
During their mission, funded through the Office of Naval Research, Moline and Benoit-Bird decided to run an experiment to test whether a modular AUV used for deep sea research called a REMUS 600 could be programmed to autonomously make decisions and trigger new missions based on biological information.
The researchers pre-programmed the computers onboard the REMUS to make certain decisions. While surveying the ocean 1,640 to 3,000 feet below the surface, the onboard computers were analyzing the sonar data of marine organisms in the water based on size and density.
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.
“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,” Moline said.
Combining available robotics technologies to explore the water in this way can help fill information gaps and may illuminate scales of prey distribution that scientists don’t know exist.
Another option is programming the AUV to trigger a deeper look only if it sees something specific, like a certain species or a combination of specific predators and prey.