Ocean Science in the Age of Robots

Dr. Jim Bellingham

Center for Marine Robotics
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Friday, Apr. 13, 2018, 3:10pm
Chase 105

Progress in the ocean sciences has been fundamentally limited by the high cost of observing the ocean interior, which in turn has been driven by the necessity that humans go to sea to make those measurements. That linkage is being broken. We are on the cusp of an age where robotic systems will operate routinely without the on-site attendance of humans. Further, the entry level cost for robotic systems is dropping, and their performance is increasing. In this talk, I will discuss factors influencing progress in marine robotics, some implications for the future of marine systems, and the impact on how we do science at sea. These topics are impossible to discuss without considering the larger ocean technology enterprise. The use of robotics has been a key enabler for the offshore oil and gas industry. As robotics become more capable and accessible, their impacts will spread, enabling entirely new ocean enterprises. Thus marine robotics both promise to greatly improve our ability to observe the ocean, while at the same time offering a powerful enabling technology for ocean industries.  Change is coming.


Jim Bellingham is a pioneer in the development of autonomous marine robots. He has led and participated in research expeditions around the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic. He is the founding Director of the Center of Marine Robotics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, founded the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Laboratory at MIT, and co-founded Bluefin Robotics. He serves on numerous advisory committees and boards, including the Secretary of the Navy Advisory Panel and several National Academies studies. He Chairs the Naval Research Advisory Committee, which advises the Secretary of the Navy. Jim’s awards include the Lockheed Martin Award for Ocean Science and Engineering, and the MIT Fourteenth Robert Bruce Wallace lecturer. Jim received an S.B., S.M., and Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.