The fastest way to get from one location to another on land may be to follow a straight line. But it’s another story under water.
Strong and shifting currents and different shore geography make figuring out the best route under water a complex matter. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have developed software that may solve that problem.
The team has come up with a mathematical process that finds the best paths for automated underwater vehicles (AUVs) to travel. The system can determine routes to save time or energy or create a course that will allow for the maximum amount of data to be collected.
Propelled and gliding AUVs are used for a variety of purposes including military reconnaissance, harbor protection, mapping and oceanographic research, and maintenance of deep-sea oil wells. Researchers have made it easier to optimize paths for a swarm of underwater vehicles moving simultaneously toward multiple destinations.
The group simulated a virtual fleet of 1,000 AUVs deployed from one or more ships and seeking different targets. The algorithm researchers use can sometimes lead to incredibly awkward-looking travel. Vehicles will make what look like random loops to take advantage of the water’s natural movements. They may drift with a current and then double-back rather than fighting the flow and cutting straight across, researchers say. Other times the AUVs may rise over or dive under jets, currents and eddies.
Previous attempts to develop such a system lacked preciseness or the ability to deal with changing currents and complex topography, says Pierre Lermusiaux, associate professor of ocean utilization and lead researcher. Other systems required too much computational power.
With some tweaking, the methodology and algorithms used by the MIT team for underwater vehicles could also work for other areas of robotics. They could guide unmanned aircraft through winds and mountains or even miniature medical robots through the circulatory system, Lermusiaux says.