This project is developing scalable vision-based formation control algorithms that allow multiple AUVs to conduct novel swath bathymetry and benthic imagery surveys in complex coral reef environments. Using customized RangerBot AUVs, the approach exploits their on-board vision capabilities of the AUVs for a V-formation “follow-the-leader” approach to ensure complete coverage without the need for inter-robot wireless communications. A key challenge is to ensure complete, minimally-overlapping coverage over complex 3D benthic terrain at relatively low attitudes above the seafloor (< 2m).
In addition to the vision-based formation control algorithms, new approaches to scalable docking (deployment and retrieval) of multiple AUVs are being developed and experimentally evaluated using the RangerBot AUVs and a customized Inference ASV. This work has built on previous vision-based AUV and ASV docking research for at surface (paper) and underwater (paper) retrieval and cooperative underwater robotic systems (paper). The overall goal is to allow a single ASV to deploy and retrieve up to 4 AUVs at sea to demonstrate large-scale autonomous benthic surveying capabilities.