The ocean can be a very mysterious place, with researchers only really knowing what lies in the shallows. From sunken ships to undiscovered creatures, there are plenty of nooks and crannies on the ocean floor that need to be known. Students studying unmanned marine vehicles and artificial intelligence at MIT plan to find out what lies in the dark with an autonomous submersible. The Charles River in Eastern Massachusetts proved to be the perfect practice locale for their prototype.
But with autonomous vehicles, one needs to code for its procedures. In this case, the students formulated an AI personality for the marine vehicle. “In underwater marine robotics, there is a unique need for artificial intelligence — it’s crucial,” says the co-instructor of the class, Henrik Schmidt.
The main issue with creating an AI for underwater robots is that fact that it can be difficult to put a human understanding of how the ocean works into a robots “mind” as Schmidt put it. We know that the ocean has spontaneous currents and waves that can knock the vehicle off track or into hazards such as rocks. We also know that there are marine organisms that have the possibility to damage the vehicle. These hazards must be taken into account and procedures must be formulated that the robot can follow in the event that one of these situations occur.
The AI also is influenced by the mission that the vehicle is going to perform. Such missions include finding hazardous objects that humans would be injured, or killed by (i.e radioactive materials, dangerous wreckage, underwater mines, etc.), retrieving data such as temperature readings or acoustics, and communicating with other manned or unmanned vehicles. The importance of these assignments to oceanographers and/or researchers is limitless. It could help them uncover things they would never be able to find by themselves with modern technologies. The AIs could also search for strategies to slow, stop, or even reverse global warming. Not to mention that the vehicles could help all of us have a more wholesome understanding of the ocean.
Through creating the prototypes, the students learned many valuable things about the process of developing codes, the possible applications of these robots, and the challenges that are faced in engineering underwater robots.
But we already have unmanned submersibles that are exploring the oceans right now so what makes the prototypes that the students are making unique? The prototypes are not just unmanned marine vehicles, they are unmanned marine vehicles that have artificial intelligence. The submersibles we have today are remote controlled meaning they cannot travel too far without losing connection with the person controlling them. The fact that the submersible has AI allows the vehicle to travel very far underwater since nobody is controlling it.
It is also possible that if the vehicle loses communication with one ship, it will gain communication with another ship that is in its range so their could even be better connections between researchers of different countries since there could be shared data.
The possible downfall of this technology could be that the vehicle is destroyed thus it cannot complete the mission. So the vehicle could have to be made of strong materials. Also, the programmer would have to be very meticulous as to create a proper code for the submersible so that it actually performs the task. Further, since the vehicle is not human controlled, it would be hard to retrieve if it goes “rogue.”