Working in labs that resemble machine shops, these engineers are taking small steps toward the holy grail of robotics - cooperative autonomy - making machines work together seamlessly to complete tasks with a minimum of human direction.
The tool they're using is the simple kayak.
The researchers are taking off-the-shelf, $500 plastic kayaks and fitting them with onboard computers, radio control, propulsion, steering, communications and more to create Surface Crafts for Oceanographic and Undersea Testing (SCOUTs).
Much of the technology being tested is ultimately intended for use in underwater robots, or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), but testing software on AUVs can easily become a multimullion-dollar experiment.
"I want to have master's students and Ph.D. students that can come in, test algorithms and develop them on a shoestring budget," said Associate Professor John J. Leonard of mechanical engineering. Leonard, together with MIT research engineer Joseph Curcio of mechanical engineering and an intern, Andrew Patrikalakis, unveiled SCOUT last fall in a paper for the IEEE Oceans Conference.
SCOUT is an inexpensive platform that eliminates the necessity of tackling one of the more difficult problems posed by AUVs - communicating under water.
"One of the biggest challenges underwater is that we can't transmit electromagnetic radiation a long distance," Leonard said.
Operating on the surface means that SCOUTs can take advantage of such technology as wireless Internet and global positioning systems (GPS), which don't work underwater. Researchers are thus free to focus on fine-tuning other necessary robot functions, such as navigation - all with the goal of creating a team that works so seamlessly that a lot of communication isn't necessary.
"In order to be effective with robots in the water, you'd best not have a plan that relies on a lot of communication," Curcio said. "To be effective with a fleet of vehicles and have them do something intelligent, what you really need to do is have the software be so robust that communication between the vehicles can be kept to a minimum."
Curcio, Leonard and Patrikalakis have built 10 SCOUTs so far, four of which are owned by the Naval Underwater Warfare Center in the care of Michael Benjamin, a visiting scientist in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering. The SCOUTs are being used in a variety of collaborative efforts at MIT. As Leonard and Curcio explained, SCOUT was designed to be a platform upon which others can build.
"The analogy was born that we should build it like the pickup truck. All we have to do is make it so that it drives with a known set of controls, or interfaces, and has a payload capability," Curcio said. "And the users, once they learn how to operate it - like a driver gets in and out of a car - should be able to easily get on board with another one even though the payload may change."
Software developed on SCOUT may someday help AUVs search the sea bottom for plane wreckage or allow kayaks to find shipwreck survivors.
"We keep thinking of new applications," Leonard said.
This research was funded by the Office of Naval Research and the MIT Sea Grant College Program. Acoustic communications hardware for the project was provided by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Summer heat for the winter
10.01.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt
Illinois team advances GaN-on-Silicon for scalable high electron mobility transistors
10.01.2017 | University of Illinois College of Engineering
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration
"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...
Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.
Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
16.01.2017 | Trade Fair News
16.01.2017 | Automotive Engineering
16.01.2017 | Life Sciences