The attention of much of the state of Connecticut this weekend will be focused on whether UConn defeats its rival Rutgers in football – but there’s a winning proposal now being developed by robotics-engineering researchers at the University of Connecticut for fully autonomous machines.
The applications could lead to unmanned vehicles which may save lives, infrastructure and the environment during a major crisis.
The UConn team has already been given a $1.2 million grant by the National Science Foundation's National Robotics Initiative (NRI) to develop underwater robotic networks – also called autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) networks – for submerged discovery and rescue operations.
Once in place, they could be used in varied harsh environments. This kind of technology would also help to avoid putting human lives at risk. An AUV network also leads to lower costs and higher levels of efficiency.
The cooperative underwater robotic network is preferable to more traditional acoustic, radio communication networks, the researchers said.
“A high-performance, energy-efficient and autonomous AUV network is significant to science, economy and society,” according to an NSF document about the project. “It will have significant impact to underwater infrastructure inspection, wildlife and habitat monitoring, and search and rescue missions. It can also be leveraged for oceanography data collection and water pathway monitoring.”
The researchers hope to come up with “fully autonomous machines capable of ‘thinking’ and navigating the hazards of their surroundings without human intervention,” according to a report from Tech Hive.
Algorithms and sensor networks used in the technology would allow the robotic machines to navigate without any assistance from human beings, the article explains.
"Many of the unmanned vehicles in use today are piloted via remote control and require a lot of support staff and supporting equipment to work properly. Our research is intended to make autonomous unmanned systems reliable, safe, and adaptive to a wide range of environments and situations," Chengyu Cao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UConn, explained in a recent UConn Today blog post.
The vehicles would respond similar to a herd of live animals. “Our work is inspired by nature,” the MIT-trained Cao explained in the report. “If you look at nature, you see fish schooling, birds flocking, insects swarming. By staying together as a group, it increases the coverage area and increases the survivability of every individual.”
The skies are another location where this technology could find a home. The researchers will be testing an upscale, remote-controlled Maxi Joker 3 helicopter in a remote area of the Storrs, Connecticut, campus. Eventually, as a result of the research, several machines will be able to collaborate with minimized risk of crashes or other failures. There could be three or four unmanned autonomous helicopters which – as a team – lift and carry away a large object.
The researchers also have an underwater submersible vehicle named Perseus – to further develop the technology.
The vehicles will likely rely on such devices as global positioning systems (GPS), advanced cameras, advanced sensors, and light detecting and ranging (LIDAR) technology.
The technology now under development could be used in fighting oil spills, wildfires or even hazards in dense cities.
Cao is the principal investigator on the project. Kazem Kazerounian, dean of the School of Engineering, and Jun-Hong (June) Cui, an associate professor of computer science, are co-principal investigators.
UConn is also home to a Center for Information Assurance and Computer Systems Security (CIACSS), which was named by federal officials as a national center of “academic excellence” in information assurance research for the five years between 2010 and 2015, SDNzone reported.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman