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MIT Engineers Hand 'cognitive' Control to ­nderwater Robots

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Researchers watch underwater footage taken by autonomous underwater vehicles exploring Australia's Scott Reef.

A new approach to programming autonomous underwater vehicles allows them to approach problems with a greater degree of autonomy.

Credit: MIT News

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) led by professor Brian Williams, a former U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engineer, have developed a new approach to programming autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that increases their "cognitive" capabilities, enabling them to approach problems with a greater degree of autonomy.

Previously, programming AUVs has been a painstakingly detailed process, but the MIT researchers' approach would enable an engineer to give the AUV a set of high-level goals to carry out, as well as other information such as time constraints and physical directions, and the AUV would autonomously determine how best to meet those goals.

Williams calls the system Enterprise, after the inspiration he drew from the TV series "Star Trek." Enterprise has different components that fill different roles, one acting as a "captain" while another acts as a "navigator," for example.

The system is similar to one Williams developed during his time at NASA to help space probes make decisions in situations where it might be difficult or impossible for Earth-bound controllers to communicate with them.

The researchers tested the Enterprise system during a recent research cruise near Australia during which their AUV was able to successfully meet its goals while avoiding collisions with other AUVs.

From MIT News
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