As part of an EU project Jacobs University is developing a new system for intelligent underwater robots in cooperation with eight national and European partners. MORPH – short for Marine Robotic System of Self Organizing, Logically Linked Physical Node) consists of a number of mobile components that are not physically, but virtually connected.
Their novel ability is to act like a meta system and to adapt to given surroundings and set tasks. The project’s biggest challenge is to ensure mutual support and multi-sensor exchange between the underwater vehicles. Jacobs University receives €1.24m of the total budget for the venture.
“The Morph project offers some very interesting possibilities to test our new system with data from international institutes leading in the field of deep marine research,” says Andreas Birk, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Jacobs University, who also leads the Jacobs University Robotics Group. “We are working with the Institut français de recherche pour l'exploitation de la mer (Ifremer) in France and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the US.”
Prof. Birk and his team have developed robots for automatic 3D perception and detailed 3D mapping in natural surroundings without geometric structures or so-called “unstructured environments” such as collapsed buildings, where there is an urgent need to find survivors.
The robots also operate in underwater environments which pose a particular challenge for 3D mapping due to the fact that sound forms the main basis for underwater sensing which in turn leads to very slow, noisy and low resolution data being collected.
In addition it is tremendously challenging to localize underwater robots during and after the end of their mission. The expensive high performance technology can get lost. To counteract these problems, the Jacobs Robotics Group developed a new method to put the sensory data collected by the cluster of robots in a spatial context and merge their data into a 3D map. The newly assembled 3D maps are precise and help to make the localization and collection of the robots much easier.
Underwater robots for the protection of ports
The new underwater robots also have another advantage: the modules are flexible and can adapt to challenging environments. They come into use in port and dike protection. To control the harbor basin under water has so far proven difficult. It is, however, essential to prevent attacks on ports and the new underwater robots can play an important part.
They can also be used in oil generation and could play a vital role as a source of information during devastating accidents – such as the explosion of the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ drilling rig – leading better and more effective problem solutions. The intelligent machines are also of interest for marine researchers for non-invasive exploration of sensitive habitats such as cold-water coral riffs.
The MORPH project started in February 2012 and continues until January 2016. In its process the Jacobs Robotics Group will build on novel methods for 3D registration of sensor data which they already developed as part of the EU project titled “Cooperative Cognitive Control for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles” (Co3_AUVS) with Jacobs University at its helm.
The project partners are Atlas Elektronik GmbH (Germany), Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche - CNR (Italy), Institut français de recherche pour l'exploitation de la mer - Ifremer (France), Instittuto Superior Tecnico - IST (Portugal), TU Ilmenau (Germany), NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) (Italy), Universitat de Girona (Spain), Instituto do Mar - IMAR (Portugal).
For questions regarding the MORPH project, please contact: Andreas Birk | Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Email: email@example.com | Tel.: +49 421 200-3113.