Continuous Operation of Underwater Robots

It's a fish! It's a bird! No…it's a robot. Inspired by nature, mechanical engineer Nina Mahmoudian is getting underwater robots to move together.

Not only could they travel more easily, but battery charging could be more efficient, too. Charging a robot is the biggest obstacle to underwater missions. That's why Mahmoudian, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has grants from both a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award and the Young Investigator Program (YIP) from the Office of Naval Research to develop strategies to address the problem and advance the system.

In a nutshell, here's what she's doing.

When an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV, or simply an underwater robot) leaves the ship, it can't stay out for more than matter of hours because it has to circle back and restore its battery life. To be efficient and observe the area of interest efficiently it is better to use multiple AUVs. Now imagine if those robots could leave the ship and a coordinated school of small robots could glide in and recharge them on the fly. That school of fish-like coordination could keep the main robots continuously operating, saving some human time and dollars.

How this strategy plays out in our daily lives is much closer than the ocean floor. For example, Amazon wants to use drones to drop off packages at our doorsteps. Well, in order to find the most efficient route through your neighborhood or recharge drones, those robots have to be coordinated. Mahmoudian's research into continuous operation can help make programs like Prime Air happen.

For more details, check out the live chat with @NinaMahmoudian from this spring.

National Robotics Week

Held during the first full week of April, this annual event brings together a number of students, industry professionals and researchers. Robots can take many different forms and @NinaMahmoudian focuses on underwater robotics.

What Makes a Robot Go

The biggest obstacle with underwater robots right now is battery life. @NinaMahmoudian's goal is to create a reliable fleet of "charging robots" that can swoop in, charge larger underwater vehicles, which will help keep them on their missions longer without needing to circle back for a charge.

Inspired by Nature

Different animal groups inspire robotic group coordination. For example, fish schools travel in different shapes depending on whether they are looking for food, swimming, or hiding. When they stop to feed, they break the rank, and then they reform to continue traveling.

People and Robots

Making fully autonomous vehicles have several benefits for people.

The Next Generation

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.