Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created new algorithms which provide underwater robots with cognitive abilities, enabling them to take decisions at a high level and perform missions autonomously. This invention will help with searching sunken ships and missing planes while at the same time preserving the environment and the ecosystem.
When creating AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles) engineers usually have to write low-level commands so as to direct the robot in carrying out its mission. Engineers at the MIT have developed a new programming approach which provides robots with high-level decision-making in order to figure out how to achieve their goals.
Brian Williams, the lead author of the study, said:
“What we want you to be able to do is tell the robots what you want them to do in terms of goals and natural language. You can fundamentally change the way you explore the ocean.”
With the system devised by the research team the robot can plan a mission and choose what location to explore and in which order within a time interval. Is something unexpected happens and the robot cannot complete the task it has the possibility to choose to abort the mission. It can also reconfigure its hardware in order to recover from a failure.
The robot won’t need any guidance when taking a decision. According to Williams there is no need for low-level commands, you simply have to give your goals to the robot. It will know how to prioritize the tasks. Moreover the robots can work in a team when working on a task and they are able to collaborate in order to prevent any collision.
The autonomous mission-planning system was tested in March on a research cruise where researchers from the Australian Center for Field Robotics, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Rhode Island were as well present. According to Williams they wanted to demonstrate how these vehicles were able to plan their own missions and carry them out and also adapt and if needed adapt them on their own, without human support.
The Earth-orbiting satellites which are used right now do not offer much data from the depths of the ocean. A sea vessel with an autonomous vehicle does not show you much. Williams believes that this new technology brings a new and exciting way of observing the ocean.
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