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SNAPSHOT Robo Boat For Volkan Isler, robotics and environmental protection make the perfect pair. by MARY HOFF | photo by JOSH KOHANEK THE FIRST THING YOU SEE when you

unpredictable changes in the evader’s mocomplex and constantly changing environwalk into Volkan Isler’s electronics-strewn tion in such a way that guarantees eventual ment defined by wind, current, battery power, laboratory is not the two-foot-tall humanoids ‘“capture”—but also of great practical value, and elusive and unpredictable fish. With a crouched in a corner, or the Spiderman trickwith real-world uses ranging from collision series of successful field trials serving as proof or-treat bucket, or the Marvel comics posters avoidance to search and rescue. In the Land of concept, he recently put together a team on the wall—or even the roombas with video of 10,000 Lakes, Isler found the perfect evader of roboticists, computer scientists, computer cameras soldered to their backs. It’s the boat. for advancing his pursuit-evasion work: carp. engineers, mathematicians and fish biologists Red as a fire truck and shiny as a sports car, Turns out a College of Food, Agricultural and successfully applied for a $2.2 million the 6-foot-long Oceanscience Q-Boat perches and Natural Resources faculty member, fisherNational Science Foundation grant to build on Styrofoam blocks in a shipping crate in ies professor Peter Sorensen, was exploring a network of carp-chasing robotic boats that the corner of the windowless room—being ways to control these nonnative invasive eventually may be available for use by fisheries handled, as the lettering on the side of the fish that involved studying their movements managers around the country. crate admonishes, With Care. Except for what within a lake. To that end, Sorensen had been “The project touches fundamental robotics looks like a coat-hanger antenna sprouting capturing wild carp, implanting radio-trackproblems I’ve been working on for 10 years,” midship and its intriguing Turkish name— ing devices under their skin, then enlisting Isler says. “And it allows us to do something Lavant—it seems an ordinary craft. But it’s college students to chase them using motoruseful for society, so I’m very excited about it.” much more than that: It’s the embodiment of boats and handheld monitoring devices. As enthusiastic as he is about Lavant’s Isler’s quest to bring advanced robotics to bear “I thought that the robots could track the success so far, Isler notes there’s plenty left to on the challenge of building a healthier planet. fish more accurately and for longer periods of perfect. He and his students are now working Isler is a computer scientist, a College of time without the need for intensive human to build energy-efficient search and tracking Science and Engineering professor, a McKnight effort,” Isler says. “However, this requires solvalgorithms for multiple robots so they can Land-Grant professor, an Institute on the ing a number of fundamental robotics proboperate in large and complex lakes in a robust Environment resident fellow, and an unabashlems, such as multi-robot search and tracking, fashion. They’re also planning to incorporate edly big fan of high-functioning inanimate which makes the project very appealing for us.” solar panels and energy harvesting into their objects. His research goal is to develop roIN THE LAND OF 10,000 LAKES, Isler found the perfect evader botic systems that can operate on their own for advancing his pursuit-evasion work: carp. in large, complex and dynamic settings. He’s particularly interested in doing so in areas that could provide some benefit in the realm of Isler took funds from his IonE fellowship algorithms so the robots can remain on the environmental monitoring. to Home Depot for wood, PVC pipes and field for long periods. “There’s lots of robotics stuff we want to big plastic tubs. He and his talented team of But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, robotdo, both theory and application,” he says. students added sensors and computers to the meets-environment-wise. In the big picture, “When it solves environmental problems, it’s mix and crafted a robotic raft. Then they began Isler has his eyes on applying his robotics double-good.” working on programming the raft to find and expertise to developing a global-scale environBefore coming to the University of Mintrack a moving object. After achieving success mental sensing system he calls “Googling the nesota in 2008, Isler had been working on with the do-it-yourself project, Isler put in an Planet.” Based on an international network of mostly theoretical robotics problems, and order for Lavant, since he felt they needed a robots, the system would make it possible for was particularly well known for his work in more robust platform for the hull. researchers to remotely gather real-time data advancing robots’ proficiency in winning Since the red robotic rover arrived on the about local conditions on command from pursuit-evasion games (think tag, only with scene in the spring of 2010, Isler has been anywhere in the world. no humans allowed). Such research is not working with his students to construct, test “Googling the Planet will enable scientists only challenging—it involves programming and refine the complex mathematical algoto query nature just like they query the Interrobots to respond rapidly and efficiently to rithms it needs to successfully navigate the net,” he says. “That’s the grand plan.”

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ENVIRONMENT.UMN.EDU/MOMENTUM

Momentum 4.1  

What would it take to solve Earth’s grand environmental and sustainability challenges? For our first-ever special issue, Momentum magazine i...

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