I’m visiting Girona Uni at the moment as part of my sabbatical term, and
whilst I’m here I’m trying to expand my horizons a bit academically. SO, this week I attended a workshop on marine robotics, which just happened to be
going on whilst I’m here and they let me attend for free. The workshop is for marine robotics, but
it is not just a research conference. Attendees come from 30 research centres,
and 12 companies. Presentations come from 14 EU projects, 4 national projects,
4 companies. On day one, I saw 16 of the talks and then skipped the rest
(including the demo and the dinner) as my folks were visiting and I thought I
should probably spend some time with them:-)
Marine robotics is a bit outside my area so it was challenging to sit in and
try and follow talks that were at the limits of my knowledge. The conference
was also considerably more applied that many of the conferences I go to –
companies and researchers working together much more closely, and much more
close to product; some of the things presented were research, others were
actual pieces of kit that you can buy. The applications varied too from science
through to mining. The EU funding that supports these systems is really
driving forward innovation in a collaborative way – many of the projects
involved tens of institutions, from university research teams through SMEs to
The keynote came from Lorenzo Brignone, IFREMER lab, which is the French
research centre that deals with oceanographic stuff. They have quite a fleet (7
research vessels), with manned submersibles, ROVs (Remote operated vehicles),
and AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles), and a hybrid HROV (AUV/ROV) which is
the topic of the keynote. Brignone works in the underwater systems unit, which
is mostly made up of engineering. The key problem is that of working reliably
underwater near boats which don’t have dynamic positioning – the surface
vehicle might move hundreds of metres, so we need to have an ROV that is more
independent in order to carry out scientific missions reliably. The design
includes the whole system, with on-ship electronics, tether, traction, and a
weighted underwater station which includes a fibre-optic link to the HROV. This
lets the hybrid system work with vessles of opportunity, rather than waiting
for science boats to become ready. Two DVL (doppler velocity log) systems give
accurate underwater location. Final output is a semi autonomous vehicle which
can be worked by general users (the engineers don’t even have to be on the
The next morning talk covered the DEXrov project, which is looking at systems
which can control dextrous robots at a distance (hopefully onshore, removing
the cost of hiring a boat). The aim is to get robots that can interact
underwater, like divers can. This is controled by an exoskeleton based system –
basically, the operator wears an arm and hand exoskeleton which the robot then
SWARMS – smart and networking underwater robotics in cooperation meshes. 31
partner consortium, looking at networking tech as well as the robotics tech.
The project is also developing middleware which will let various heterogenous
systems (UAVs, ROVs, misssion control, boats) cooperate. Underwater acoustic
network links to wireless on the surface.
Next up Laurent Mortier from the BRIDGES project, which is a big h2020 project
(19 partners including 6 SMEs) looking at glider technology. These systems are
very low power underwater vehicles which can cover very long journeys,
collecting data. Gliders create small changes in buoyancy, using wings to
drive themselves forwards. This project looks to increase the depth that
gliders can work at, which enables a greater range of scientific questions to
be answered. The kind of data they look for depends on the payload, which can
be scientific, or commercial (searching for things like leaks from undersea
hydrocarbons, finding new oilfields).
Carme Paradeda of Ictineu submarines presented next, on moving from from a
manned submarine to underwater robots, in a commercial setting. http://www.ictineu.net/en/ is their website,
and they’ve invested 3 million euros, and more than 100,000 hours of R and D
went into the creation of their submarine. This is a manned submarine which
involved developing new battery technology as part of the project, safer
batteries for operating at high pressure.
Marc Tormer of SOCIB (a Balaeric islands research centre) also talked about
gliders. Aim is to change the paradigm of ocean observation: from intermittent
missions on expensive research vessels, to continuous observations from
multiple systems including gliders.
Graham Edwards from TWI (The Welding Institute) talked about ROBUST H2020
project. This project addresses seabed mining. Resources they’re looking for
are manganese nodules, which can be found also looking cobalt crusts and
sulphide springs. The system uses laser spectrography on an AUV with 3d
acoustic mapping tech, to try and get away from the problems associated with
Pino Casalino, University of Genova (ISME) had the last slot before lunch
talking about an Italian national project MARIS working towards robot control
systems for marine intervention. This provided another overview of a big multi
site project, looking at vision, planning and robot control. I have to admit
that at this point my attention was beginning to wander.
One group photo and a very pleasant lunch later (I declined the option of a
glass of wine, but did take advantage of the cheesecake and the espresso
machine) we were back for an afternoon of talks.
The difficult post-lunch slot fell to Bruno Cardeira, from the Instituto
Superior Técnico (Lisbon) talking about the MEDUSA deep sea AUV. This
project was joint Portugal-Norway with a lot of partners, looking at deep sea
AUVs, in order to survey remote areas up to 3000m depth. They wanted to do data
collection and water column profiling, resource exploration, and habitat
mapping, with the aim to open up new sea areas for economic exploitation.
Bruno also presented a hybrid AUV/ROV/Diver navigation system, the Fusion ROV which is a
commercial product. This talk had a lot of videos with a loud rock soundtrack, which is one way to blow people out of their post-lunch lull, I guess.
The next talk came from Chiara Petroli, of the University of La Sapienza
(Rome) talking about the SUNRISE project, working on internet of things wrt
underwater robotics. Underwater networking, in a heterogeneous environment.
Long distance, low cost, energy efficient, secure comms… underwater. Where of
course wifi doesn’t really work. Dynamic, adaptive protocols which use largely
acoustic communications have been developed.
Unfortunately by the end of this talk we were already running 15 minutes late
(after just two talks). So the desire for coffee was running high in the
audience, and I think I detected a snore or two.
Andrea Munafo from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, talking
about the OCEANIDS project sponsored by the UK’s NERC (natural environment
research council). This program is building some new ROVs which will enable
long range and autonomous missions. One of these ROVs is called Boaty
The last talk from this session came from Ronald Thenius, of Uni Graz,
talking about Subcultron, a learning, self-regulating, self-sustaining
underwater culture of robots. 7 partners from 6 countries, aiming to monitor
the environment in the Venice lagoon using the worlds’ largest robot swarm
using energy autonomy and energy harvesting. Because Venice is big and has a
lot of humans, the cultural aspect is quite important. Players: 5 aPads,
(inspired by lilies, has solar cells, radio comms), 20 aFish (inspired by fish,
moves around, communicates), and 120 aMussels (inspired by clams, many sensors,
passive movement, NFC, energy harvesting). I liked this talk a lot.
Post coffee break, it was the turn of Nikola Miskovic, from the University
of Zagreb, talking about cooperative AUVs which can communicate with divers
using hand gestures and tablets. The project (CADDY – autonomous diving buddy)
allowed a number of advances, including the way that the diver could use Google
maps underwater. “The biggest challenge when you do experiments with humans
and robots is the humans“:-)
Jörg Kalwa, ATLAS ELEKTRONIK GMBH spoke on the SeaCat story – from toy
to product. UAV/ROV hybrid with variable payload. This grew out of various
precursor systems (experimental and military) – the talk covered the various
robots which are ancestors of the current ROV. The current incarnation is
a commercial robot which does pretty much everything you might want an ROV to
do, but the price point is pretty high.
The penultimate talk is from Eduardo Silva, ISEP / INESC TEC in Porto
(Portugal), talking about underwater mining, in flooded opencast mines. Project
has a great acronym – Viable Alternative Mine Operating System or VAMOS. Big
project (17 partners from 9 countries). This project has a bunch of
collaborating robots including UAVs which look like the many of the others
(torpedo like), and other underwater vehicles which look a lot more like mining
vehicles – tracked tanks, with massive drills and so on.
The day finished with the European Robotics League – a UEFA champions league
for robotics. Service robots, industry robots, outdoor robots. This talk came
from Gabriele Ferri, CMRE. Emergency robotics, combining ground underwater and
air robots cooperating in a disaster response scenario. Mission is to find
missing workers (mannequins) and bring them an emergency kit, survey the area,
and stem the leak by closing a stop cock.
To be honest, my take home from this workshop is: underwater robots are cool, and brexit is an awesomely stupid idea.