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Upcoming research cruise: New Approaches To Autonomous Exploration At The Costa Rican Shelf Break

Engineers look to the ocean as a testbed for new autonomous technologies. These technologies will help us explore Earth’s seafloors, as well as advance the future exploration of ocean-covered worlds elsewhere in our solar system. The field of ocean science is continually moving towards greater automation and the ability to do more science more efficiently. Dr. Richard Camilli, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (as well as his team from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, University of Michigan, and MIT) have been instrumental in demonstrating the use of intelligent, data-driven robotic tools to monitor and understand the ocean in areas that are otherwise inaccessible to humans. This expedition, the team will build on those advances using multiple types of robotic vehicles operating autonomously in hazardous environments.

A suite of gliders will be used, along with ROV SuBastian, operating in coordination to hone in and identify specific habitats around the Cocos Ridge – a continuous arc of subsea volcanoes and hydrothermal vents. This is a complex environment with irregular, high-relief formations. By exploring, observing, and sampling the area, the team will be able to answer questions about what is allowing the organisms to survive and thrive, and explaining reasons for why certain species are in specific areas.

This expedition will allow the team to go to new areas and observe situations no one has seen before. So far, autonomous underwater manipulation tasks such as sample collection have only been demonstrated in controlled laboratory settings, and underwater vehicles using these advanced forms of autonomy have never been deployed in such a complex and potentially hazardous terrain. This expedition will have important and lasting impacts on both ocean science and broad uses of robotic vehicles. The lessons learned here could very well be used to explore other ocean worlds on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

To find out about more about this expedition, visit the research cruise’s webpage.

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