FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Marshall computer science students conduct robotics research
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Three Marshall University computer science students, as well as faculty from the Colleges of Science and Information Technology and Engineering, are participating in a multi-disciplinary project to build a sensor suite for the U.S. Navy to be used on autonomous marine vehicles.
Through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Spatial Integrated Systems (SIS) of Rockville, Md., and its partners were awarded a four-year, $24.7 million contract in to build a sensor suite for the United States Navy to be used on autonomous marine vehicles.
The project is referred to as Autonomous Maritime Navigation (AMN) and all of the software development will take place in West Virginia. Marshall University is one of the research partners. The three Marshall professors involved in the project are Joe Fuller, associate professor of computer science, Dr. Venkat Gudivada, professor of computer science, and Dr. Peter Saveliev, associate professor of mathematics. The three Marshall computer science students working on the project are Camden Clutter of Clarksburg, W.Va., Shawn Cotton of Huntington and Brad Fitzwater of Eleanor, W.Va.
According to Gudivada, the goal of the AMN project is to develop a set of integrated hardware and software that will enable boats and ships to autonomously navigate in waterways. This requires intelligent data fusion from an array of sensors including sonar, radar, GPS and digital cameras (stereo vision), Gudivada said.
Though humans have the innate ability for exceptional vision perception, endowing computers with human vision is still an elusive problem even in a laboratory environment, according to Gudivada. He said choppy waters of the oceans and uncontrolled lighting conditions of the outdoors only make the computer vision even more elusive.
Fuller, who also serves as a consultant for SIS states, said for years he has seen students educated in computer science in West Virginia forced to leave the state to find employment in high-tech positions.
“I am delighted that Senator Byrd was able to secure funding for this project that will allow high tech to grow in West Virginia,” Fuller said. “The work the computer science students do will be extremely valuable to the project and the experience they gain may lead to eventual employment in a rewarding job located in West Virginia.”
Gudivada and Saveliev are focusing on approaches and algorithms for generating 3D points using stereo vision. This capability is needed to accurately estimate the distance of obstacles such as ocean vehicles and coast line so that a marine vehicle can steer itself clear from the obstacles.
Clutter, Cotton and Fitzwater are spending the summer working on a variety of efforts in support of the project. These efforts include 3D viewing, 3D point generation using cameras, sonar, GPS, system integration and sensor fusion. The three students are conducting their research and developing software under the direction of Gudivada and Saveliev.
“There is no dispute that computers and software have fundamentally touched all our lives both at work and home to varying degrees,” Gudivada said. “The next wave of advances in computers and software will unfold many new applications, one of them being robots. Though robots have been widely used in manufacturing industry for a while, their full potential will be realized when they are capable of performing hazardous tasks such as bomb diffusion, search-and-rescue operations and hostage recovery.
“It is timely and very exciting for Marshall to be involved with robotics research,” Gudivada continued. “We are grateful to Senator Byrd for securing funding for this project. The AMN project not only helps to establish a strong robotics research program at Marshall, but, more importantly, helps to mentor and train our bright students in this exciting field that has numerous commercial applications. Furthermore, the research that will result from the AMN project will help us to showcase our college to attract inspired high school students to study computer science at Marshall.”
Fitzwater said he believes robotics research area is interesting for a variety of reasons.
“The problems that we have encountered so far are unlike anything that I have been exposed to,” he said. “Hence, there is a new learning experience at each progression. The concept of dealing with problems that are both extremely difficult and have not been solved yet excites me. As I progress, I find that I am constantly challenged, which makes me inspired and intrigued.”
Shawn Cotton said the project has allowed him to experience what it would be like to have a software development job out in the real world.
“This project is challenging and intriguing,” Cotton said. “Solutions to the problems that I am working on have the potential for high impact. The project has allowed me to see how many possibilities are there to expand our horizons with research.”
Clutter said, “Doing robotics research has been a great experience so far and can only get better. The research that I and the others are doing is consistently challenging, pushing us to think differently. I hope that, through this research, we pave the way to a greater emphasis on robotics engineering and automated systems here at Marshall.”
Dr. Tony Szwilski, interim dean of the College of Information Technology and Engineering, said the project is “another indication of the quality of our students and academic programs in the College of Information Technology and Engineering.”