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  1. Abstract

    In-situ visual observations of marine organisms is crucial to developing behavioural understandings and their relations to their surrounding ecosystem. Typically, these observations are collected via divers, tags, and remotely-operated or human-piloted vehicles. Recently, however, autonomous underwater vehicles equipped with cameras and embedded computers with GPU capabilities are being developed for a variety of applications, and in particular, can be used to supplement these existing data collection mechanisms where human operation or tags are more difficult. Existing approaches have focused on using fully-supervised tracking methods, but labelled data for many underwater species are severely lacking. Semi-supervised trackers may offer alternative tracking solutions because they require less data than fully-supervised counterparts. However, because there are not existing realistic underwater tracking datasets, the performance of semi-supervised tracking algorithms in the marine domain is not well understood. To better evaluate their performance and utility, in this paper we provide (1) a novel dataset specific to marine animals located at, (2) an evaluation of state-of-the-art semi-supervised algorithms in the context of underwater animal tracking, and (3) an evaluation of real-world performance through demonstrations using a semi-supervised algorithm on-board an autonomous underwater vehicle to track marine animals in the wild.

  2. In this paper, we present an approach that enables long-term monitoring of biological activity on coral reefs by extending mission time and adaptively focusing sensing resources on high-value periods. Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet; yet they are also among the most imperiled: facing bleaching, ecological community collapses due to global climate change, and degradation from human activities. Our proposed method improves the ability of scientists to monitor biological activity and abundance using passive acoustic sensors. We accomplish this by extracting periodicities from the observed abundance, and using them to predict future abundance. This predictive model is then used with a Monte Carlo Tree Search planning algorithm to schedule sampling at periods of high biological activity, and power down the sensor during periods of low activity. In simulated experiments using long-term acoustic datasets collected in the US Virgin Islands, our adaptive Online Sensor Scheduling algorithm is able to double the lifetime of a sensor while simultaneously increasing the average observed acoustic activity by 21%.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 23, 2023
  3. We present a novel POMDP problem formulation for a robot that must autonomously decide where to go to collect new and scientifically relevant images given a limited ability to communicate with its human operator. From this formulation, we derive constraints and design principles for the observation model, reward model, and communication strategy of such a robot, exploring techniques to deal with the very high-dimensional observation space and scarcity of relevant training data. We introduce a novel active reward learning strategy based on making queries to help the robot minimize path "regret" online, and evaluate it for suitability in autonomous visual exploration through simulations. We demonstrate that, in some bandwidth-limited environments, this novel regret-based criterion enables the robotic explorer to collect up to 17% more reward per mission than the next-best criterion.
  4. We propose a generative model for the spatiotemporal distribution of high-dimensional categorical observations. These are commonly produced by robots equipped with an imaging sensor such as a camera, paired with an image classifier, potentially producing observations over thousands of categories. The proposed approach combines the use of Dirichlet distributions to model sparse co-occurrence relations between the observed categories using a latent variable, and Gaussian processes to model the latent variable’s spatiotemporal distribution. Experiments in this paper show that the resulting model is able to efficiently and accurately approximate the temporal distribution of high dimensional categorical measurements such as taxonomic observations of microscopic organisms in the ocean, even in unobserved (held out) locations, far from other samples. This work’s primary motivation is to enable the deployment of informative path planning techniques over high dimensional categorical fields, which until now have been limited to scalar or low dimensional vector observations.
  5. This paper proposes a bandwidth tunable technique for real-time probabilistic scene modeling and mapping to enable co-robotic exploration in communication constrained environments such as the deep sea. The parameters of the system enable the user to characterize the scene complexity represented by the map, which in turn determines the bandwidth requirements. The approach is demonstrated using an underwater robot that learns an unsupervised scene model of the environment and then uses this scene model to communicate the spatial distribution of various high-level semantic scene constructs to a human operator. Preliminary experiments in an artificially constructed tank environment, as well as simulated missions over a 10m x 10m coral reef using real data, show the tunability of the maps to different bandwidth constraints and science interests. To our knowledge this is the first paper to quantify how the free parameters of the unsupervised scene model impact both the scientific utility of and bandwidth required to communicate the resulting scene model.
  6. Unsupervised learning techniques, such as Bayesian topic models, are capable of discovering latent structure directly from raw data. These unsupervised models can endow robots with the ability to learn from their observations without human supervision, and then use the learned models for tasks such as autonomous exploration, adaptive sampling, or surveillance. This paper extends single-robot topic models to the domain of multiple robots. The main difficulty of this extension lies in achieving and maintaining global consensus among the unsupervised models learned locally by each robot. This is especially challenging for multi-robot teams operating in communication-constrained environments, such as marine robots. We present a novel approach for multi-robot distributed learning in which each robot maintains a local topic model to categorize its observations and model parameters are shared to achieve global consensus. We apply a combinatorial optimization procedure that combines local robot topic distributions into a globally consistent model based on topic similarity, which we find mitigates topic drift when compared to a baseline approach that matches topics naively. We evaluate our methods experimentally by demonstrating multi-robot underwater terrain characterization using simulated missions on real seabed imagery. Our proposed method achieves similar model quality under bandwidth-constraints to that achieved by modelsmore »that continuously communicate, despite requiring less than one percent of the data transmission needed for continuous communication.« less