Johns Hopkins technology will guide hybrid undersea robot

December 09, 2003

The robotic "brain" that will steer a new remotely operated vehicle through the deepest parts of the world's oceans will employ technology devised by engineers at The Johns Hopkins University.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) recently received $5 million in funding to design and construct a self-powered undersea robot capable of descending 11,000 meters or 36,000 feet, deeper than any existing research vehicle. The new robot is described as a hybrid because it will be able to operate either connected to a fiber optic umbilical or in a free-swimming mode. The navigation and control systems will employ technology developed by Louis Whitcomb, an associate professor in the Whiting School of Engineering's Department of Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins.

Whitcomb also is an adjunct scientist in the Deep Submergence Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Navigation and control systems developed for the JHU ROV, an underwater robot based at Johns Hopkins, have been adapted for use in Jason 2 and DSL120A, two robotic research vehicles developed by WHOI. Whitcomb's navigation system also is being used by Alvin, an inhabited undersea vehicle, also developed by WHOI. The navigation system enables an undersea vehicle to determine its exact position on Earth; the control system allows it to maneuver in a highly precise manner.

For the new hybrid vehicle, Whitcomb, his collaborators at WHOI and his students at Johns Hopkins' Baltimore campus will expand and enhance their existing systems. The team will produce computer hardware and software that will be installed on the hybrid vehicle itself. "The new hybrid vehicle project will allow us to build on our existing knowledge and contribute to an innovative type of underwater robot that will, we hope, significantly extend the reach of oceanographic research at extreme depths," Whitcomb said.

The four-year project is led by WHOI's Andrew Bowen, with WHOI's Dana Yoerger, and Whitcomb as co-investigators. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This project will provide a great opportunity for collaboration among researchers, engineers and students from Woods Hole, Johns Hopkins, MIT and the U.S. Navy," Whitcomb said.
Related Links:

WHOI Press Release:
WHOI Home Page:
Louis Whitcomb's lab at Johns Hopkkins:
Johns Hopkins Department of Mechanical Engineering:
News release about the Whitcomb Lab's new test tank:

Johns Hopkins University

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