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Colloquium Monday: Autonomy From the Heavens Down to the Sea

(Colloquium poster)With global climate change in the news, there is an increasing focus of robotics research in the ocean sciences where deep ocean robots are few and substantially less capable than those built for terrestrial and space research. Energy and communications (or lack thereof) are two drivers of how robotic devices in the sea are challenged compared to their terrestrial and space cousins. These constraints, coupled with a lack of detailed understanding of ocean processes within the water column as well as the benthos, have made ocean exploration an extremely challenging domain for robotics research. Yet recent shifts in ocean exploration have only pushed for the use of robotic platforms with substantial onboard intelligence so as to enable a cost-effective way to observe, characterize, map and sample what lies under 70% of the Earth's surface.

To date, substantial effort in autonomous systems research has focused on other domains. In particular, NASA made sustained investments in autonomy and AI research in general over the last two decades which have had sizable impact on its missions.

In Monday's colloquium, Autonomy from the Heavens down to the Sea, Kanna Rajan will discuss the continuum of efforts in autonomy, that could potentially alter the way how we will observe the oceans, keeping in mind the Remote Agent and MAPGEN experiences. He will attempt to lay out where Oceanography is as a discipline and where it needs to be to better meet near-term challenges. He will also highlight why NASA's investments for the last two decades will have an impact in understanding our own oceans and weave together the challenges and opportunities in this emergent field of intelligent robotics in our deep oceans.

Rajan is the Principal Researcher in Autonomy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, a small privately funded Oceanographic institute which he joined in October 2005. Prior to that he was a Senior Research Scientist and a member of the management team of the the 95 member Autonomous Systems and Robotics Area at NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, California.

SLAC Today, March 17, 2008