Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Toward Smarter Underwater Drones


The news was not good. An underwater drone armed with the best technology on the planet had descended repeatedly to the bottom of the Indian Ocean, trying to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Time after time, it turned up nothing.

If Nina Mahmoudian has her way, the next generation of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) will have a much better chance of getting it right.

Barzin Moridian

Nina Mahmoudian, standing second from right, and her team of student researchers on the Michigan Technological University waterfront prepare to launch their underwater drone, ROUGHIE, in Portage Lake.

AUVs like the one that hunted for Flight 370 are laden with advanced technology, but they have their shortcomings. During a search, they travel in a predetermined pattern, retrieving reams of information and returning it to the surface, where it can be analyzed, says Mahmoudian, a researcher at Michigan Technological University. Thus, they can spend a lot of time gathering data on things that are not, for example, a missing airplane.

“You need an autonomous vehicle that can go deep and explore an area with a sense of what it is looking for,” she said. “We want to make a smarter vehicle, one that can search on its own and make decisions on its own.”

Mahmoudian is building four of those smarter AUVs, each a little bigger than a loaf of French bread. When they are complete, she will give them something new: better, more powerful brains. That involves revamping their software so they “know” what they are looking for. “AUVs like these could be so much more useful for finding small, hazardous objects like mines, or for detecting problems with cables and pipelines,” she said.

Mahmoudian’s AUVs, named ROUGHIEs (for Research Oriented Underwater Gliders for Hands-on Investigative Engineering) will be underwater gliders. Powered only by batteries, they will “fly” slowly through the water simply by adjusting their buoyancy and weight. This will make them safer and more reliable in shallow waters, where a propeller could become tangled in vegetation or injure a person.

That’s important, because the ROUGHIEs will not be exploring the middle of the ocean; they are designed for use near the water’s edge, which offers a special challenge.

“They come up on the coast, where there’s lots of noise, and we want ours to be able to talk with each other, and perhaps to a mother ship, in any environment,” she said. “That means they’ll have to operate in an area with lots of boats, swimmers and the like.”

Her ROUGHIEs offer additional advantages. They will be modular, allowing users to swap out different components depending on what tasks the drones undertake. And they will cost a fraction of the price of a commercial model to build. That makes them ideal for the trial-and-error process inherent in scientific research.

Underwater gliders and other types of AUVs already play an important role in addressing some of today’s most pressing environmental, safety and biological challenges. Their uses range from detecting dangerous contaminants, like oil spills, to retrieving evidence of climate change. By arming them with smarter software, they would become even better at doing their jobs, including searching an ocean’s depths.

“We need solutions for these cases,” Mahmoudian said. “The disappearance of the Malaysian aircraft is a clear example of why we must do this.”

The Office of Naval Research is supporting Mahmoudian’s effort with a $125,000 grant to build the four low-cost underwater gliders. Members of her team are Byrel Mitchell and Saeedeh Fard, both PhD students in mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics; mechanical engineering undergraduates Eric Wilkening and Brian Page; and Anthony Pinar, PhD student in electrical engineering. Mahmoudian is an assistant professor in Michigan Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics.

Marcia Goodrich | newswise
Further information:

Further reports about: Flight Hands-on batteries decisions drone hazardous underwater underwater drone

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How Cells in the Developing Ear ‘Practice’ Hearing

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.

The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Urbanisation and migration from rural areas challenging agriculture in Eastern Europe

30.11.2015 | Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Teamplay IT solution enables more efficient use of protocols

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Greater efficiency and potentially reduced costs with new MRI applications

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Modular syngo.plaza as a comprehensive solution – even for enterprise radiology

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

More VideoLinks >>>