Bluefin Robotics, a Quincy company that makes autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs, is teaming up with an MIT lab to make its AUVs more versatile, and a private demo on the collaborative effort is scheduled for the Charles River next week.
The Laboratory of Autonomous Marine Sensing Systems, or LAMSS, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working with a Bluefin-21, a customized AUV that weighs nearly 3,000 pounds, as well as a Bluefin-9, a 133-pound AUV designed for shallow-water applications.
Think of the Bluefin AUV as an iPhone, suggests Bluefin president and chief executive David P. Kelly. What the MIT lab is looking to do is the equivalent of developing third-party apps for an AUV. These “plug-and-play” apps then can guide an AUV to perform sophisticated missions either by itself or by working with other AUVs --- all without overriding the core-platform safeties. AUVs can perform a range of missions, from detecting for mines to doing underwater exploration for the oil and gas industry.
In a statement, Professor Henrik Schmidt, Director of the LAMSS, said, “It allows us to test the mission configuration by connecting the payload computer carrying the autonomy software to a laptop computer with a simulation environment representing realistic platform dynamics and sensory input.”
Put another way, the LAMSS/Bluefin team is using an open-source software called MOOS-IvP to come up with something called “Backseat Driver,” which can adjust the AUV’s behavior as a result of input from sensors attached to the vehicle.
Instead of an iPhone, “you have the Bluefin underwater robot with built-in autonomy support for open source software like MOOS-IvP,” Kelly wrote in an e-mail. “Now, you have the tools to create new applications and behaviors directly, put them on the vehicle and have them execute, reducing time and cost. For example, a university could invent a new sensor and demonstrate it on a Bluefin AUV on their own schedule without requiring Bluefin to generate specific software for them.”