University of Porto Oceans Distinguished Lecture Series

Latest Lecture

Kanna Rajan

Ocean Sciences the world over is at a cusp, with a move from the Expeditionary to the Observatory mode of doing science. Recent policy decisions in the United States, are pushing the technology for persistent observation and sampling which hitherto had been either economically unrealistic or unrealizable due to technical constraints. With the advent of ocean observatories, a number of key technologies have however proven to be promising for sustained ocean presence. In this context robots will need to be contextually aware and respond rapidly to evolving phenomenon, especially in coastal waters due to the diversity of atmospheric, oceanographic and land-sea interactions not to mention the societal impact they have on coastal communities. They will need to respond by exhibiting scientific opportunism while being aware of their own limitations in the harsh oceanic environment. Current robotic platforms however have inherent limitations; pre-defined sequences of commands are used to determine what actions the robot will perform and when irrespective of the context. As a consequence not only can the robot not recover from unforeseen failure conditions, but they’re unable to significantly leverage their substantial onboard assets to enable scientific discovery.

To mitigate such shortcomings, we have designed, built, tested and deployed deliberative techniques to dynamically command autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) with deep roots in work to command and control deep space probes for NASA. Our effort is aimed to use a blend of generative and deliberative Artificial Intelligence Planning and Execution techniques to shed goals, introspectively analyze onboard resources and recover from failures. In addition we are working on Machine Learning techniques to adaptively trigger science instruments that will contextually sample the seas driven by scientific intent. The end goal is towards unstructured exploration of the subsea environments that are a rich trove of problems for autonomous systems. Our approach spans domains and not unduly specific to the ocean domain; the developed system is being used for a terrestrial personal robot at a Silicon Valley startup and is being tested on a Planetary rover test bed by the European Space Agency. Our work is a continuum of efforts from research at NASA to command deep space probes and Mars rovers, the lessons of which we have factored into the oceanic domain. In this talk I will articulate the challenges of working in this hostile underwater domain, lay out the differences and motivate our architecture for goal-driven autonomy on AUV’s and more recently on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for dual-use exploration and surveillance.

Abstract & Full Biography

20 May 2016 - 12:00
Rectory Building of the U.Porto - Grand Hall

Praça de Gomes Teixeira
4099-002 Porto
About the Grand Hall

Organized in collaboration with

University of Porto Oceans Distinguished Lecture Series


The University of Porto’s Oceans Distinguished Lecture Series is starting in May 2015, following several successful initiatives on global ocean sustainability and stewardship (e.g.
The purpose of the public lectures by nationally and internationally-recognized experts in oceans-related research is to provoque debate on a range of inter-disciplinary studies and topics that focus on climate change, ocean acidification, fishing, pollution, shipping, security issues, and mining, as well as in loss of habitats and biodiversity. This will provide a forum for important discussions, which will induce guidance on the science pull and technological push in this important area of research.
We encourage attendance from across the wider University community and hope that many will join us at the lectures. If you would like to suggest a speaker, please get in touch with the Vice-Rector for R&D’s Office at


There is now a pressing need for a sustained, persistent and affordable presence in the oceans that will help us to understand and monitor how key issues such as climate change, ocean acidification, unsustainable fishing, pollution, waste, loss of habitats and biodiversity, shipping, security, and mining are affecting global ocean sustainability and stewardship. This is not an easy task. First the oceans cover 71% of the Earth and contain 96% of the Earth's living space thus making ocean observation a problem at the planetary scale. Second, the oceans are still largely inaccessible, not only to humans but also to man-made devices. Third, the oceans are a communications’ challenged environment: land-based communications have limited range and satellite communications are quite expensive. Fourth, although ships have been the mainstay of seagoing ocean sciences, a ship can only be at one place at a time, can only carry a small number of scientists, and can only stay at sea for limited time. Fifth, the interior of the ocean changes faster than it can be measured with traditional sampling devices, such as ship borne sensors and drifters.
A sustained, persistent, and affordable presence in the oceans requires innovative approaches to systems’ development, operations, and management. This can only be achieved with an incremental and multi-dimensional approach. There is a need to increase the number of systems (buoys, drifters, floats, etc.) in operation in the oceans, and to develop and deploy new fleets of robotic vehicles for ocean observation with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. Additionally, it is necessary to network existing systems and new robotic vehicle systems for coordinated adaptation to observational needs. This entails being able to command and control networks of manned and unmanned vessels that, in turn, may form ad-hoc communication networks allowing extended and cost-effective communications coverage. Moreover, there is a need to develop unmanned air/ocean/surface/ground vehicle systems (UXS)s capable of long duration/range missions for cost-effective spatial and temporal coverage. Finally, there is also a need for new organizational frameworks to manage and coordinate the system(s) of systems that will result from these networking trends and associated cost benefits. This poses unprecedented technological and organizational challenges to countries and international organizations.