Autonomous Surface Vehicles for Low-Cost Oceanography by Pavlo Vlastos

Pavlo Vlastos

UC Santa Cruz | Linda Dyer Millard

My work involves developing Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASVs) to study the ocean and other bodies of water in new ways. The goal is to design an ASV that optimizes energy use, exploration ability and uses off-the-shelf components for low-cost and ease of manufacturing.


Studying the ocean is an important task for many researchers. There are countless organisms comprising the oceans’ complex ecosystems. For example, phytoplankton are of particular interest because they account for nearly half of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. Others, such as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are composed of similar ocean-life. They can reproduce rapidly, causing oxygen dead-zones, which can kill other larger organisms and disrupt local ecosystems. HABs can even pose risks to humans in the ocean. As the ocean absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, and rises in temperature, the interactions and effects of these and other ocean-life become of further importance to study. Unfortunately, some of the most effective ways to study these phenomena are expensive, and outside the means of many researchers’ budgets. Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) offer the potential to study the ocean without the need for a large crew and research vessel, but many ASVs and AUVs still have relatively high costs. This is partly due to the fact that many use unnecessarily large computers for control systems and navigation, in addition to potentially expensive, mission-critical ocean-sensor payloads. One of the goals of this work is to design and test ASVs that use off-the-shelf components and embedded systems for navigation and similar low-level tasks. By reducing the cost of ASVs, researchers may further study the ocean and help protect its inhabitants.


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