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Grand Challenge StatementRyan Neal Smith February 2010Postdoctoral Research AssistantRobotic Embedded Systems Laboratory voice: (808) 256-9562Ronald Tutor Hall (RTH 512) fax: (213) 740-56963710 S. McClintock AvenueUniversity of Southern California [email protected] Angeles, CA 90089 http://www.robotics.usc.edu/∼ryanThe Grand Challenge of Exploration: Understanding the Dynamic OceanExploration is part of human nature and one of the three purposes of empirical research. Personal interestshave guided my professional career toward the investigation of one of the most unexplored and inaccessible,and arguably the most important, regions of our planet; the oceans. I spent my childhood in northernMichigan in a small town surrounded by water, in a small house right on the lake. Water was as much apart of my everyday life as the air that I breathed. It fascinated me, and captivated my attention for hourson end. Whether fishing, diving, sailing, water skiing, or snowmobiling across the frozen expanse, I usedthe water everyday. Many individuals share my aquatic affinity, as more than half the world’s populationlives within 200 km of a shoreline. This amasses more than ∼ 3.2 billion people in an area that representsless than 10% of the earth’s total land surface. This is not surprising, since all current recognized forms oflife rely on an active hydrosphere; humans in particular because the hydrosphere provides necessary freshwater for sustenance. However, as reported by the National Academy of Engineering in Grand Challengesfor Engineering, 1 in 6 people worldwide does not have adequate access to water. And, unfortunately, wateris a local resource; transporting water supplies at this time is logistically unfeasible and energy limiting.Ironically, the energy to desalinate adequate water supplies and transport these to the proper places maylie within the ocean itself.With less than 20% of the population having access to adequate fresh water, we continue to polluteour oceans and other primary sources of this precious resource. Based on Earth’s population density dis-tribution, as population continues to increase, so does the rate of urbanization and development in coastalcommunities. Land use and land cover (e.g., significant increase in impervious surfaces) in these near-shoreregions are permanently altered, affecting both the quantity of freshwater runoff, and its particulate andsolute loadings. The impacts of such changes have an unknown impact (physically, biogeochemically, bio-logically and ecologically) on the coastal ocean, and predicted effects are not positive. Ocean observationand monitoring is key to understanding and ultimately predicting long-term effects of urbanization andclimate change in coastal regions and across the globe. Apart from supporting human life, the Earth’soceans act as an engine, driving the global climate. These water masses can store huge quantities of solarenergy, and absorb climate changing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In some sense, the very resourcewe are abusing is the one thing that is helping to mitigate human impacts on global climate.Jacques Cousteau once said, ”The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.” Likewise, the bestway to study the ocean is to reside in the ocean, and explore and investigate the unexplored and currentlyinaccessible regions. Potential answers to some of the grand challenges facing today’s society, such asrenewable energy, access to clean water, carbon sequestration methods, understanding effects of climatechange, managing the nitrogen cycle, new medication, etc. may lie just below the surface. Deploying in situinstrumentation, augmented by adaptively sampling robots that can perform in situ feature recognitionand event response will bridge a substantial gap in our understanding of coastal ecology and general oceanbiogeochemical dynamics.Ryan Neal Smith Grand Challenge Statement Page: 2 of 2To this end, and supported by the details contained in my curriculum vitae, I am interested in theopportunity to conduct collaborative research between mechanical and environmental engineering, roboticsand computer science to develop engineering systems for the investigation and observation of Earth’s oceans.Such an endeavor can be facilitated via the National Science Foundation’s proposal to spend USD $309.5million over the next five years to build an integrated ocean observatory network; an additional USD$240 million is proposed for maintenance and operation. A primary research focus in the area of oceanmonitoring and exploration is to bridge the gap between theory and application in the study of pathplanning for autonomous underwater vehicles. In particular, the development of methods to determine theplacement and application of sensor assets at the right place at the right time to effectively and efficientlycapture the appropriate spatio-temporal variability of diverse ocean properties. Such methods include pathplanning algorithms based on predictive models to track dynamically evolving ocean features, e.g., algalblooms. Additionally, it is important to understand the hydrodynamics and derive the control theory tosteer the vehicle through a complex, highly-unknown environment to perform the prescribed mission. Mypublication record demonstrates experience in spanning these and related disciplines, both theoretical andapplied, to design and deploy large arrays of static and mobile sensors and robots to monitor physical,chemical, and biological processes in aquatic ecosystems. This research combines theoretical and appliedmathematics, algorithm development, ocean modeling and field robotics in a collaborative effort to developengineering solutions to the challenge of monitoring and assessing current issues in ocean science, such asthe effects of urbanization and climate change.In addition to developing a successful collaborative research program, I am particularly interested tobe a faculty member in a department that values education at the undergraduate and graduate levels,as well as within the surrounding community. I am committed to the development of innovative andinterdisciplinary programs to educate the next generation of engineers in the areas of engineering, roboticsand ocean science to prepare them to face the Grand Challenges of their generation. In addition toconducting such instruction at the university level, I also seek to motivate students in grades K-12 topursue careers in Science,


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