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 Johns
The Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution 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
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
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 Whitcomb and WHOI's Dana Yoerger 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 Web Sites
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Louis Whitcomb lab at Johns Hopkins
Whitcomb lab's new test tank
Mechanical Engineering at JHU