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The world is moving faster, and signal processing is helping to lead the way, making mobile technologies faster, safer, and more functional on land and even under the sea.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), engineers have created an algorithm that allows autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to weigh the risks and potential rewards of exploring unknown deep-sea sites in real time. An AUV dispatched to investigate an underwater oil leak, for example, could rely on the algorithm to calculate the danger level of pinpointing the discharge against the probability that the AUV might smash into a nearby cliff or other potentially destructive obstacle.
The technology, which researchers in the lab of Brian Williams, an MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics, have affectionately dubbed Spock, is an adaptive science system. “That means it’s tasked with exploring environments that we know little about and directs the underwater vehicle to locations that will best assist the system and user in understanding that environment and finding locations they are interested in,” explains Benjamin Ayton, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Spock was born from the understanding that undersea exploration is inherently dangerous and that equipping an AUV with human-like risk/reward compromise behavior might be a good way to enhance both vehicle safety and productivity. Spock is one piece of a larger architecture called Enterprise, which handles overall AUV dynamics, scheduling, and user interaction. The system has been in development for about three to four years, Ayton says. “In that time, we’ve moved it from basic concept through to several successful demonstrations.”