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Marine Robotic System of Self Organizing, Logically Linked Physical Nodes (MORPH)
The MORPH project advances the novel concept of an underwater robotic system composed of a number of spatially separated mobile robot-modules, carrying distinct and yet complementary resources. Instead of being physically coupled, the modules are connected via virtual links that rely on the flow of information among them, i. e. inter-module interactions are allowed by underwater communication networks at distant and close ranges and supported by visual perception at very close range. The MORPH supra-vehicle (MSV) is thus in sharp contrast to classical monolithic vehicles or even cooperative groups of marine vehicles that operate safely away from each other. These lack the capability of mutual support and multi-sensor interaction.Without rigid links, the MSV can reconfigure itself and adapt in response to the shape of the terrain. This capability provides the foundation for efficient methods to map the underwater environment with great accuracy especially in situations that defy existing technology: namely, underwater surveys over rugged terrain and structures with full 3D complexity. This includes walls with a negative slope, where precise localization of a single vehicle is not possible.The possible applications of the MSV cover a wide range of scientific and commercial areas such as monitoring of cold water coral reefs, oil and gas pipeline inspection, or harbor and dam protection. The common characteristic of these areas is the need for operating multiple, complementary instruments at very close range to unstructured underwater terrain while accomplishing proper geo-referencing at the same time.The MORPH concept requires qualitatively new behaviours such as adaptive sensor placement for perception and navigation, as well as environmental modeling in complex environments. On site view planning will lead to a solution well beyond the operational state of the art for underwater cliff surveys and other similar missions. A final demonstration on a vertical cliff, unfeasible automatically with today's technology, will validate the efficacy of the methods developed.
Jacobs Robotics is among others responsible for 3D Underwater Mapping in the project. We have for example developed a underwater stereo camera and new methods to generate 3D maps from the data by novel registration algorithms. Our group has for example successfully tested this system in the waters off the Portuguese Azores islands in summer 2012 in cooperation with the University of the Azores (UAC).
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