The recently launched EU scientific project "subCULTron" is on its way to create new standards in underwater environmental monitoring. The Venice Lagoon is the target area of the novel and also world's largest autonomous underwater robot swarm consisting of 120 robots of three different types developed by an international team of scientists from Austria, Italy, Croatia, France, Belgium and Germany. The goal is to monitor the Venice Lagoon and its surrounding water body. The swarm approach makes it possible to gain a never before collected variety of data in parallel,which is expected to give new insights in the interplay of ecology, industry, and tourism of the Venice Lagoon that can helpin conservation of the region.
Monitoring the ocean concerning pollution, ecology and climate change effects is a costly, complex and elaborate task. An interdisciplinary team of European scientists is on the way to break new ground in this field. Within the EU funded project subCULTron theywork on establishing the world's largest intelligent underwater monitoring system that coordinates, communicates and collects data autonomously. The scientists are designing a swarm of autonomous underwater vehicles, consisting of three different types of robots, each of them specialized for a certain task, called "aFish", "aMussels" and "aPads". These three robot types aren't controlled by humans, they communicate and interact via bio-inspired algorithms in an autonomous way.
The Venice Lagoon was chosen as experimental area, because this region and its underwater world offers an enormous biological and ecological variety that is strongly influenced by industry, inhabitants and tourism. Experiments with the subCULTron autonomous underwater swarm will take place in the channels of Venice, in the surrounding salt marshes and in a mussel farm nearby. Different data from different habitats with various influences can be collected and be analysed by scientists afterwards. Collected data (e.g. water quality) will also be published on google maps for the public. This way society can directly profit from the information gained by the subCULTron swarm. Decisions of humans, based on information provided by the swarm, will in turn influence future data collection of the swarm. As the Venice Lagoon is known to be in danger of being strongly affected by climate change, collecting as much data as possible from different areas can help to get a better understanding of the multilayer interplay of human influences on the water body of the Venice Lagoon. Thiscan also help to find ways to defend the world heritage from future threats.
The subCULTron swarm is going to consist of three different robot types, that are designed and developed especially for the project and that represent cutting edge technology and software: artificial Mussels (aMussels) are novel autonomous robots that sit on the ground after being deployed in the water to collect various data over a long time, establishing a specifically designed sensory network this way. When necessary, they will also be able to move as a group, exploiting given energy sources, e.g., turbulences or water currents. Artificial Fish (aFish) are fast and agile underwater robots that are used to monitor the ground and to search for given targets. They also bridge communication between aMussels and artificial Pads (aPads). Such aPads are robots that float on the water surface, inspired by lilypads on a pond. They complete the communication chain from aMussels on the seabed via aFish to aPads and finally to the scientists in the lab. All three different robot types are planned to run efficiently concerning energy for a certain time by using advanced energy harvesting techniques established by the project team.
The fleet communicates via bio-inspired algorithms that are derived from social insects like honeybees or by slime molds or fish, because these natural systems also work without a central unit of control, which makes these systems resilient even if single robots fail. Bio-inspired algorithms make it possible that the swarm as a whole is aware of the inner state of all swarm members and that it also can make decisions collectively, what is very important in fast changing environments like the Venice Lagoon, where nature has to deal with a lot of different influences from human society.
Source and top image: subCULTron
Learn more at the next leading event on the topic: Energy Harvesting Europe 2017 on 10 - 11 May 2017 in Berlin, Germany hosted by IDTechEx.