2016 2016: Seaport Economic Council grant advances marine robotics research & development

2016 2016: Seaport Economic Council grant advances marine robotics research & development
Seaport Economic Council grant advances marine robotics research & development

$600K grant to increase autonomy in the tuna-shaped BIOSwimmer

BIOSwimmer Side Scan Tail Movement, courtesy Boston Engineering
The BIOSwimmer indicating good tail movement - photo courtesy Boston Engineering

Dr. Ramprasad Balasubramanian is the principal investigator on a $612,250 grant-funded project to implement autonomy in unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

New approaches for UUV autonomy

Balasubramanian will lead a team that will explore new approaches to providing autonomy for the BIOSwimmerTM—a tuna-shaped UUV developed for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) by Boston Engineering, which is headquartered in Waltham.

BIOSwimmer in green water - courtesy Boston Engineering
The BIOSwimmer in action - photo courtesy Boston Engineering

Other collaborators include Northeastern University and Charles River Analytics. The Boston Engineering division working on this technology is located at UMassD's Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

Balasubramanian explained that autonomy is the ability of a vehicle to operate in an unknown environment with little or no operator intervention. An autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is one that "acts by itself," operating without the need for a remote operator. The vehicle must also be mission-oriented.

The goal of this project to take a UUV—i.e., the BIOSwimmerTM—and make it into an advanced AUV.

Mimicking the flexibility and maneuverability of a real-life tuna, the BIOSwimmerTM can carry out missions in harsh and dangerous underwater environments that include: ensuring safe harbors, providing ship and underwater infrastructure inspection, and conducting environmental monitoring.

The project received funding through the state’s Seaport Economic Council—part of $2.6 million in competitive grants aimed at growing the "blue" maritime economy and supporting technological innovation and education opportunities.

Advancing marine robotics

The team’s work will advance the capabilities of marine robotics and AUVs on key missions while providing real-world educational and research opportunities for College of Engineering students as they work on next-generation technology, both hardware and software.

BIOSwimmer - hoist for deployment, courtesy Boston Engineering
Hoisting BIOSwimmer for deployment - photo courtesy Boston Engineering

"We’re also serving the Commonwealth as we develop a highly-skilled workforce prepared to work in today’s maritime economy," said Balasubramanian.

The program will provide new, cutting-edge research infrastructure, including two undersea robots—one for UMass Dartmouth and one for Northeastern.

"The approach we’re taking is that of the ‘back-seat driver paradigm,’ to allow the robot to integrate its mission parameters with sensor data to complete its task, while operating in an unknown environment," he said.

Balasubramanian said that Dr. Taskin Padir of Northeastern University will explore an alternative autonomous implementation.

More information

Press release: Baker-Polito Administration Awards $2.6 Million in Seaport Economic Council Grants