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UD researcher programs robots to be better oceanographers

Eli Chen/Delaware Public Media

As robots become more advanced, scientists are taking advantage of their capabilities to explore places that are hard for humans to get to, like the ocean depths.

Using robots, University of Delaware's marine scientists have been able discover a lot about ocean environments.

They’ve taken them to Palau to discover long lost World War II planes, Antarctica to follow Adelie penguins, and also Delaware’s coastal waters to track sand tiger sharks.

Marine science professor Mark Moline says that he and his colleagues are getting more data about the ocean than they ever have before, but it takes a lot of time to crunch that data.

And if they see that the drone came across something interesting, say, like a 100 squid, it’s already too late to reorient the robot to stick around and follow the animals.  

So in the last year, Moline made some adjustments.

“While it’s flying down, the vehicle can respond to its environment, so to speak," said Moline.

And now that the drones can react to interesting data, Moline says they can now find out a lot more about what happens in the deeper parts of the ocean -- like interactions between prey and predators.

“It’s not only the prey we’re able to look at, it’s also the predator, which is kind of neat," said Moline.

Because predators, like whales, lead rather mysterious lives. Moline is looking at the beaked whale in particular, which he says look "very odd." With the help of these drones, we might become more familiar with these strange deep ocean divers.


Moline's study appears in the journal Robotics.


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