Ivan Stenius is researching the underwater robots of the future

Meet the maritime researcher. Ivan Stenius work at the aeronautical and vehicle engineering department at KTH as an Assistant Professor. He's also the director for SMaRC, Swedish Maritime Robotics Centre, and tries to make underwater robots to do advanced manouvers in the water.

What’s the purpose of these underwater robots??

- One thought is, for example, that you can get better environmental monitoring, you can replace some vessels and operations demanding large resources, for example in order to take samples or measurements in marine environments. Or to be able to access remote areas that have not previously been accessible, for example beneath icebergs in polar areas, which are basically some of the few white spots left on earth. These vehicles could be an instrument or facilitator to help us learn more about what it looks like in those places, Ivan Stenius says.

- These kinds of operations require endurance in time and distance so that they can get the required distances, and that they can go down to very deep depths. But it also requires a very high degree of intelligence in the craft itself. It should be able to make very advanced decisions, all by itself, depending on whether something unforeseen happens during its mission and the craft should be able to secure the data and find its way home.

Swedish Maritime Robotics Centre, SMaRC
Swedish Maritime Robotics Center (SMaRC), is a national, interdisciplinary focal point for research and development of maritime robots for mariculture, field monitoring and environmental measurements. SMaRC is funded by the Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF). In addition to KTH, researchers from Stockholm and Gothenburg University are part of SMaRC. Industrial partners are SAAB, MMT Sweden, FMV and FOI.

There is a lot happening within autonomy above water, on land, and the trend towards more autonomous systems is believed to happen underwater as well. Therefore, SMArC is important and we can hopefully achieve what we call disruptive techniques or system-changing technologies where new technology can do things in a completely different way that you could do before. 

Would you like to tell me more about your part of this research?

- My interest in this research is about seeing how we can get these vehicles in the future to manoeuvre and do tricks in a different way than they can do today. One example is if you have an advanced sensor, where you can only afford or place one sensor in the craft. If you then can aim this sensor in several directions, you can take double advantage of the sensor. For example, if you want to chart the bottom, you can aim the sensor downward or if you want to chart a mountain side under water, you can aim it aside. Or if you're under the ice, you might want to aim it up and watch the ice from below. In order for the craft to be able to get very long endurance, one wants to carry out multiple missions, and then the craft should be able to dock into a small garage where it can charge energy, upload data, update the software and so on. This should be able to do autonomously.

Can you give us a future vision where smart underwater vehicles are part of everyday life?

- For example, you may use the sea to grow algae’s. The area may be 10 hectares, and what would the farmer’s tools be like? You need to monitor the crop, find out whether it's time to harvest, if the crop has any diseases or other things you need to keep an eye on. In that kind of scenario, you may have the help of underwater robots of various kinds, to maintain and monitor the crop.

What makes your job fun?

- I think the multidisciplinary aspect throughout this work is very fun. There are different types of engineering disciplines that work together, and researchers such as marine biologists, glaciologists, polar scientists and more, who work together to make this a whole and contribute to a greater benefit. We aim to draw the research into becoming demonstrators in as realistic environments as possible. It is research close to real life application in a fairly realistic environment,  so we can identify the challenges. That's what I think makes it fun, but also challenging.