In Minamisanriku-Cho, gearing up for first mission

It is dawn here at Minamisanriku and from my hotel room, I can see streaks of orange over the New Port, the site we first searched and cleared in April. The tendrils of fog driftly past the small islands dotting Shizugawa Bay. We start checking our gear in another hour before breakfast and depart to an inlet on the northern border of the bay. There we will meet with city officials and fishermen who have asked us to find underwater debris, map it, and attach a float to it so that it can be removed.


We have brought two robots for the mission: a OceanServer autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that looks like a small yellow torpedo. It carries side scan sonar and will map out the area of the bay rapidly, probably within a hour. That will let us know where debris or possible debris is, which will then use the SARbot from SeaBotix from a boat to investigate. With its gripper, we should be able to attach a float to the underwater debris to mark it for easy identification for later removal. If not, IRS has two divers with us who will do it manual. Meanwhile the AUV will move to a new location and we will work in sequence: get “big picture” with AUV,  perform “little” actions with the tethered ROV.


But just having robots isn’t the same as getting the information to the right people at the right time- which is also called the “data-to-decision” problem. We will be integrating the data from the two robots using the General Dynamics GeoSuites software package- which is a civilian version of the command and control software used by the military. This will help us, the robot team keep up with the two groups deploying the AUV and ROV in different areas at the same time AND allow tactical responders such as Kenichi Makabe and his team of fire fighters who will be joining us  to see the fused and geolocated incoming data. GeoSuites will let multiple users have a global visual “common ground” that lets different groups get the view of the enterprise that they need, allowing me to see what everyone is doing, while letting officials start planning for removal and our GIS experts learn and start generating models of where more debris will be found.

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