Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tracking Oil Spills with Robots

Not that anyone WANTS another oil spill...but when there is one, it would be nice to have a better idea of where the ocean currents are going to carry the oil. Presumably, this information would be useful in damage mitigation as well as clean-up efforts.

This oil-spill-tracking-via-swarms-of-coordinated-robots idea gets fleshed out more in a press release out today from the Jacobs School of Engineering about an almost $1.5 million NSF grant to a team led by MAE associate professor Jorge Cortes. The funding will enable the engineers to figure out how to implement the controls systems that keep swarms of underwater ocean robots in the kinds of formations that will enable them to collect the data necessary to figure out what is going on with ocean currents in the area.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers who are also on the grant say that there is a whole heck of a lot that we don't know about these kilometer-scale ocean currents...and if we did know more, we could use that knowledge to better understand ocean process, to figure out where we need marine protected areas, and to really understand where sewage is going once it is pumped out into the ocean.

At the same time, those Scripps researchers are leading a related grant to further develop the ocean robots.

Image credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.