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Scientists to launch underwater autonomous robot fleets

Darren Murph

You might want to watch where you wade while at Montego Bay, California this month, as a fleet of sea-searching robots will be on the prowl collecting all sorts of data. The Adaptive Sampling and Prediction (ASAP) team, led by Naomi Ehrich Leonard of Princeton University and Steven Ramp of the Naval Postgraduate School, is using two types of water-repelling robots that rely on algorithms to make maneuvering decisions without human input (which is a common theme of late) so as to collect information that will hopefully explain the cold water upwelling that occurs at Point Año Nuevo this time of year. The bots, known as gliders, look strangely like homing missiles, but they have some fairly important non-destructive duties ahead of them: collecting temperature, salinity, and other aspects of the currents are all in the job description. This field experiment is hopefully just the beginning of sending these independent machines out to quench our thirst for exploration; the team envisions these self-motivated creatures combing the floors of deserts, rain forests, and even other planets where humans aren't exactly primed to visit. Presumably all systems are go on this deep-sea endeavor, but we still wonder if there's an override command should these aquatic dwellers get smart and decide they'd rather just swim with the fishes than work all day.

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