Challenges in Marine Autonomy


This talk will consider the challenges associated with autonomous marine systems. The work of the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) marine robotics group has focused on developing and deploying underwater vehicles and imaging platforms in support of applications in engineering science, marine ecology, archaeology and geoscience. We have operated an Australia-wide benthic observing program designed to deliver precisely navigated, repeat imagery of the seafloor. This initiative makes extensive use of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to collect high-resolution stereo imagery, multibeam sonar and water column measurements on an annual or semi-annual basis at sites around Australia, spanning the full latitudinal range of the continent from tropical reefs in the north to temperate regions in the south. The program has been very successful over the past 15 years, collecting millions of images of the seafloor around Australia and making these available to the scientific community through online data portals developed by the facility and affiliated groups.  These observations are providing important insights into the dynamics of key ecological sites and their responses to changes in oceanographic conditions through time. We have also contributed to expeditions to document coral bleaching, cyclone recovery, submerged neolithic settlement sites, ancient shipwrecks, methane seeps and deepwater hydrothermal vents. The talk will also consider how automated tools for working with this imagery have facilitated the resulting science outcomes.

Brief Biography

Prof. Stefan B. Williams is the Head of School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering and Professor of Marine Robotics at the University of Sydney.  He is a member of the Australian Centre for Field Robotics where he leads the Marine Robotics group and is the head of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Facility.  He was president of the Australian Robotics and Automation Association from 2014-2016 and in 2018 was recognised as a Distinguished Lecturer by the IEEE Ocean Engineering Society.   His research interests include Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping in unstructured underwater environments using visual and acoustic sensing, autonomous navigation and control and classification and clustering of large volumes of data collected by robotic systems. He received his PhD from the University of Sydney in 2002 and completed a Bachelor of Applied Science in Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo, Canada in 1997.

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