Glider submarine

OSU’s Slocum Gliders provide long-term monitoring using low-power buoyancy controlled movements that allow them to glide through the ocean. (Photo: Seth McCammon)


The National Science Foundation has awarded $1 million to five Oregon State University researchers to study the operation of autonomous marine vehicles.

The grant further enlarges the university’s robotics footprint three months after the College of Engineering established CoRIS—the Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute — to advance the theory, design, development, and deployment of robots and intelligent systems able to collaborate seamlessly with people.

It also broadens the reach of the Oregon State’s Marine Studies Initiative, a university-wide effort to increase understanding of coastal and ocean systems and promote sustainability on key issues including climate change, food security and safety, natural hazards, renewable energy production, and natural resources management.

Geoff Hollinger, assistant professor of robotics, and Julie A. Adams, professor of computer science, along with Jack Barth, Jonathan Nash, and Kipp Shearman of the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences are the principal investigators on the $1 million grant.

Hollinger, the lead PI, researches autonomous robotic systems, and Adams, an associate director of the CoRIS Institute, is a computer scientist. Barth, the executive director of the Marine Studies Initiative, Nash, and Shearman are physical oceanographers who specialize in making observations at sea using autonomous vehicles.

The project builds on cross-campus collaborations that bring engineers and ocean scientists together to produce innovations in OSU-developed ocean-sensing technologies such as ROSS – the robotic oceanographer surface sampler – and advanced underwater glider operations. The project seeks to increase vehicles’ “neglect tolerance” – the ability to withstand long periods with little to no communication from a human technician – by improving their autonomy capabilities.

“Underwater exploration using unmanned robotic vehicles has opened up vast new ways of understanding the world’s oceans,” Hollinger said. “However, in the current state of practice, human operators must provide specific way points for the vehicles to follow, which is both time consuming and inflexible. 

The research in this project will develop autonomy capabilities that facilitate on-vehicle intelligence, leading to longer duration deployments of unmanned underwater and surface vehicles as well as improving the oceanographic data collected and reducing the cost of these deployments.”

The $1 million NSF grant comes on the heels of the $3.6 million the College of Engineering received in robotics-related funding in fiscal year 2017, the nearly $2 million it received the previous year and a recent $6.5 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to make artificial-intelligence-based systems like autonomous vehicles and robots more trustworthy.