VISTA centre for development of collaborative robotic systems

The NTNU VISTA centre will study robots monitoring our ocean space.

Knowledge of our oceans is still limited, not least, because detailed observations are far more challenging to carry out than, for example, in the atmosphere. Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) interacting with other robotic platforms on the surface, in the air and in space open up completely new opportunities for research and monitoring of the ocean space.

NTNU Professors Asgeir J Sørensen, Kristin Ytterstad Pettersen, Martin Ludvigsen and Kjetil Skaugset at the Departments of Marine Technology and Engineering Cybernetics will lead the build-up of the VISTA centre NTNU-VISTA Centre for Autonomous Operations Subsea.

By using AUVs, better knowledge can be gained, not least of marine ecosystems that provide important input in value creation and management of the ocean. AUVs also open up many opportunities for the development of marine industries, such as offshore wind energy production and aquaculture as well as safer installations, operations and maintenance in the offshore gas and oil industries.[1]

A key subject of the centre is how an AUV will navigate between specified installations to do inspections and, if necessary, perform a task before returning to its permanent station on the seabed for updating and maintenance. The equipment technology is designed on the basis of the solution of non-linear differential equations of the hydrodynamics and mechanics describing the robot, installation or ship's movement. The research community in Trondheim is a world leader in this field, shown, among other things, through the development of the mathematical basis for a general snake robot and its construction and, not least, the development of autonomy for marine robotics.

"The centre's ambitions are important for the long-term national utilisation of our marine areas while environmental awareness stands front and centre," says VISTA Board Chair Ole M Sejersted.

Ole M. SejerstedOle M. Sejersted

"The centre will benefit from the experimental infrastructure that we have developed in Trondheim harbour. Our goal is to develop technology that in the short term can reduce the environmental footprint of industry at sea while reducing environmental risks, and in the longer term the technology will be able to become part of an underwater infrastructure of great importance for monitoring and understanding biology, chemistry, physics and dynamics in the sea and on the seabed,” says Professor Asgeir J. Sørensen.

He continues: “Marine robotics such as sensor-bearing platforms will help us to exponentially increase data collection for mapping and monitoring the ocean. We are at a watershed concerning digitisation of the sea where the centre along with its partners will have an impact on Norway's role as a great power at sea," says Professor Asgeir J. Sørensen.

The expert group that assessed the application from Professor Sørensen states that the centre will deliver science at the highest international level, and develop an academic environment for disciplines such as marine cybernetics, marine robotics, artificial intelligence and hydrodynamics. The centre will exist for five years and will receive NOK 5 million per year for five years through the VISTA agreement, which is a basic research collaboration between Equinor and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The host institution NTNU will contribute self-funding.

A total of eight applications for centres were submitted.


[1] https://www.blueyerobotics.com/blog/the-blueye-pioneer-underwater-drone-joining-the-nansen-legacy-to-the-arctic, see also the article: Toward adaptive robotic sampling of phytoplankton in the coastal ocean

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