1208 Greate Rd
P.O. Box 1346 Gloucester Pt
Gloucester Point, VA 23062
Autonomous Systems Laboratory
ASL Areas of Expertise:
Autonomous Systems Lab
The Autonomous Systems Laboratory (ASL) at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) creates innovative Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and develops new methods for them to explore the World Ocean.
Scientific expeditions using our technology span the tropics to the poles. ASL robots have explored Antarctica, Bonaire, Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Keys, California, the Gulf of Mexico, and Iceland. Our robots map the seafloor; measure water quality; count and identify fishes, jellyfish, and krill; and explore shallow-water hydrothermal vents. ASL research contributes to national defense, including environmental security (detection of oil spills, toxins, and explosives), protection of ports and harbors, and countermeasures against rogue autonomous robots deployed by terrorists. Our work has been recognized by the Marine Technology Society's Lockheed Martin Award for Ocean Science & Technology, and the Commonwealth of Virginia's Outstanding Faculty Award.
Underwater robots are also used in STEM education from K-12 to unique undergraduate and graduate experiences like the Living Ocean Foundation's Project SeaCAMEL. We also work closely with industry partners through communities of interest like Robot Venture, research contracts, and the VIMS/Industry Partnership.
Our technology is available for license through William & Mary's Office of Technology Transfer. We also collaborate with researchers needing access to AUVs. In 2010, our AUV fleet is expanding to five. New research efforts are developing methods for mission planning and execution using robot swarms.
AUVs are oceanography’s most important recent technological advance. Already my Autonomous Systems Laboratory (ASL) has used AUVs to make new discoveries such as coherent structures of lowered oxygen over coral reefs, how krill swarms in the Antarctic appear on high frequency side scan sonar, and how to identify fishes from their side scan sonar images using neural network processing. This last area will become a new tool in fisheries stock assessment in the near future. AUVs are the mobile components that will be vital to filling in the gaps between the fixed nodes, the buoys, of Ocean Observing Systems.
The ASL is currently working on expanding our ability to recognize everything an AUV sees with its sensors, to detect anomalies and respond to them (for it is the anomalies that often herald interesting things the ocean is doing), and to develop efficient methods for AUV sampling of pressing environmental problems like coastal hypoxia and coral reef degradation. In the near future, we expect the VIMS AUV will be able to count and identify the larger species of gelatinous zooplankton in the Chesapeake Bay, providing an unprecedented view of these organisms that are increasingly disrupting coastal food webs. We will use this technology to see how swarming organisms like menhaden and Antarctic krill affect the water column through their feeding, excretion, and oxygen consumption. We are also cooperating with the Coastal Sediments Hydrodynamics and Engineering Laboratory (CSHEL) of Dr. Art Trembanis, University of Delaware, to develop new methods for AUV mission planning and execution in support of seafloor mapping.