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June 4, 2018

Engineering smarter robotic boats for safer, cheaper work on the water

From conducting bridge inspections to search and rescue missions, future unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) will help humans with the dangerous or repetitive work

Roboticists Karl von Ellenrieder and Satyandra Gupta may work on opposite U.S. coasts, but they envision the same future for work on the water -- fleets of boats and ships operating more safely, efficiently and less expensively, with the help of robotics. USVs, or unmanned surface vehicles, are basically robotic boats guided by humans, who may or may not be on board. von Ellenrieder of Florida Atlantic University and Gupta of the University of Southern California say teams of humans working with robotic boats could transform jobs vital to society, such as bridge inspections, environmental monitoring, and search and rescue.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), von Ellenrieder and Gupta are currently focused on engineering new decision-making tools to make USVs smarter and more autonomous. Advances in this area could be extremely important from both a regulatory and practical standpoint for the future deployment of human–robot teams on the water.

This research is part of NSF’s investment in the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), which seeks to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside, or cooperatively with, people.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF awards #1526016 and #1634433, NRI: Collaborative Research: Enabling Risk-Aware Decision Making in Human-Guided Unmanned Surface Vehicle Teams.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.