December 2021 Beacon

Breaking the Surface 2021

Nadir Kapetanović, Anja Babić, Ivan Lončar, Igor Kvasić, Barbara Arbanas, Matej Fabijanić, Jura Vuković, Maja Magdalenić, Goran Borković    

OCEANS 2021 activities

In the week leading up to Breaking the Surface (BtS) 2021, our members were busy not only participating in the OCEANS 2021 conference, but also chairing some sessions. Anja chaired the session Buoy Technologies and presented her paper titled Developing the concept of multifunctional smart buoys. Igor presented his paper, Diver-Robot communication using wearable sensing diver glove used in ADRIATIC project, in the session Classification and Pattern Recognition (Parametric and Non-parametric), which he chaired. Nadir also chaired his session, Vehicle Design 1, where he presented the paper Towards a Heterogeneous Robotic System for Autonomous Inspection in Mariculture related to the HEKTOR project. Ivan chaired a session about Access, Custody, and Retrieval of Data. While the virtual aspects of chairing conference sessions seemed somewhat daunting at first, our members managed with aplomb – then dived right back into final BtS preparations, this year once again taking place in-person.

Igor presenting his paper in the Classification and Pattern Recognition (Parametric and Non-parametric) session that he chaired
Group photo of all BtS participants

BtS 2021 workshop

Another very successful edition of the Breaking the Surface interdisciplinary field workshop on maritime robotics and applications was held in Biograd na Moru, Croatia, from 26 September to 3 October. This was the 13th year that BtS brought together experts from the fields of maritime robotics, marine biology, maritime archaeology, maritime security, and marine geology. This workshop is traditionally organized by the Laboratory for Underwater Systems and Technologies (LABUST), and some of our members are instrumental in organizing this event. Our Vice-Chair, Igor Kvasić, was the chair of the technical committee of the workshop, and our other members, Anja Babić, Nadir Kapetanović, and Ivan Lončar, formed the technical committee together with several other LABUST members.

IEEE OES UniZg Student Branch Chapter social event at BtS

The workshop spanned five days of lectures, tutorials, and demos. The mornings started with a series of talks, briefly interrupted by a coffee break and networking opportunity, while the afternoons were filled with many interesting tutorials, demos, and company presentations. The event was attended by many experienced professionals from both academia and industry. What is particularly interesting about this event, in addition to its highly interdisciplinary nature and the many networking opportunities, is the percentage of students who attend. This year we had the opportunity to welcome many students from different levels of education, from Bachelor and Master students to many PhD students. For them, this workshop is a great opportunity to network with some of the most prestigious names in their field of study. BtS supports this exchange through both the formal format of lectures and workshops and a rich program of more casual social events.

One such occasion was an event organized by our Student Branch Chapter on Monday, 27 September. We organized a casual social event with music played by our younger members by the demo pool. Attendees had the opportunity to enjoy themselves and socialize with this musical backdrop – a perfect start to the week as many new contacts were made. We particularly encourage students to introduce themselves to established people in the field, and this relaxed atmosphere certainly helped the cause. Our Chair Anja, introduced our SBC and its activities to the auditorium. We believe that organizing this type of event helps to give visibility to our activities and is also good publicity for the society as a whole.

BtS field trip on Saturday

The workshop was officially closed by a gala dinner and a ceremony led by the BtS program chair and our SBC advisor prof. Nikola Mišković. During the ceremony, the IEEE OES VP for workshops and symposia expressed his satisfaction with another great BtS edition and confirmed the OES support for the next year.

As usual, the event concluded on Saturday with an excursion. This time, participants were taken by boat to the nearby Telašćica Nature Park, where they could enjoy nature and wonderful sights. This was a perfect ending to an amazing week and we can only say that we are already looking forward to next year!

HEKTOR project demo

One of the demos organized during the Breaking the Surface 2021 workshop was the demo about the results of the first half of the HEKTOR project. The demo was held on Tuesday, September the 28th, 2021. HEKTOR (Heterogeneous Autonomous Robotic System in Viticulture and Mariculture) project (hektor.fer.hr/) is looking for a solution to various issues in mariculture. Mariculture is heavily reliant on human labor, with workers generally doing arduous, repetitive, sometimes even dangerous tasks for long periods of time. Currently, divers must monitor fish farming cages for lengthy periods of time in all weather situations, even the most extreme.

Nadir presenting an overview of the HEKTOR project. ASV Korkyra and Blueye Pro ROV shown in the foreground.

The objective of the HEKTOR project in mariculture is to try for the first time in Croatia to include robotic systems (aerial, marine surface and underwater) in the process of cage fish farming for automated monitoring of fish cages. HEKTOR project proposes a heterogeneous robotic system consisting of an ROV, an ASV and a UAV for autonomous fish cage inspection missions. Based on the data fusion of the individually obtained information, the data from all three robots will be utilized for the final assessment of the fish cages.

Prototype of the landing platform to be mounted onto the ASV Korkyra.

The demo was to showcase a catamaran-shaped autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) named Korkyra, developed in-house in the scope of the HEKTOR project, and all its subsystems, namely the pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) surveillance camera, prototype of the landing platform, mounting of the short baseline acoustic localization system, and the model of the tether management system. Moreover, the integration of the Blueye ROV with ROS2 and the ASV was presented.

Attendees of the demo were very interested in the heterogeneous robotic system and all its subsystems. A useful discussion was started about topics ranging from visual detection and spatial map representation of biofouling, dual mode control of the ASV Korkyra by its 4 T200 thrusters and its booster electrical Minn Kota rear motor, mission planning, situational awareness of the ASV using its PTZ camera, to the performance of the WaterLinked Underwater GPS G2 system with the U1 Locator and future plans for the development of the small-scale tether management system and the landing platform.

Ivan Lončar presenting an introduction to the Marine simulator tutorial

Marine simulator tutorial

During day three of the workshop a Unity-based marine and maritime simulator developed by LABUST was showcased. The motivation for development of an in-house simulator for marine and maritime sprang from a newly funded Croatian national project, which concerns itself with developing an autonomous ship. Additionally, it is expected that other ongoing LABUST projects will benefit from the developed simulator. With the plan of open-sourcing the simulator to share the work and get constructive involvement from the community, we organized a tutorial. This event had the goal of presenting and demonstrating the simulator to the relevant community. An introductory presentation about the simulator capabilities familiarized the audience with problems encountered when developing marine robots and our approach in solving them. Following the lecture, the tutorial engaged participants by tasking them with creating an environment in the simulator, adding a surface vehicle with a multitude of sensors, and finally controlling it in live simulation. After the tutorial, participants gave constructive feedback and showed interest in using it in their own research projects.

Simulator tutorial held by Ivan Lončar, Natko Kraševac, Luka Mandić, Juraj Obradović and Vladimir Slošić.

BtS 2021 workshop – Undergraduate students’ angle

Lionel Lapierre presenting the lecture titled “Robots for Karstic Exploration”. Courtesy of Goran Borković.

Much like during the previous years, IEEE OES UNIZG SBC tries to gather not only PhD students but also students from undergraduate and graduate studies. This year we invited our undergraduate students to the Breaking the Surface workshop so they got a chance to attend lectures about the state-of-the-art of marine robotics, but also help organize our SBC’s technical and social events. Moreover, some of them also had a chance to participate hands-on in HEKTOR project experiments with the Blueye Pro ROV. Their impressions are given below.

Matej Fabijanić: “Breaking the Surface is an international interdisciplinary field workshop of maritime robotics and applications. The 13th workshop brought together over 100 people from 39 universities and companies all around the world for 5 days of interesting lectures, useful workshops and tutorials, and hands-on demonstrations. With various topics from the fields of marine robotics, archaeology, and biology it would be quite difficult not to find something there that interests you, whether you are still a student or an international expert.

“Having worked with an underwater ROV for my third and final year as an undergraduate at University of Zagreb, specifically at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, attending the BtS workshop was a very interesting and cool experience. I was able to catch the first two days of speeches, presentations and demonstrations before college obligations caught up.

“Hearing first-hand experiences from people in the industry, as well as researchers from around the world opened my eyes to just how diverse marine robotics are. Literally spanning from vessels designed for shallow coastal regions and swamps up to submarines designed to dive down 3800 meters to the wreck of the RMS Titanic with a 5-person crew on board. That and everything in between could be seen at BtS this year.

“On the last two days of my stay in Biograd for the workshop I worked closely with researchers and mentors from LABUST, as well as a PhD student from Italy, to test movement algorithms based on computer-vision in a realistic environment. The resort at which BtS was taking place was situated near an Olympic pool filled with seawater that could be used for various testing purposes. Only after dropping the ROV I worked with for a whole year in Zagreb into the pool did we encounter errors and faults that needed to be fixed.

“The topic of my Final Paper dealt with monitoring underwater cages in fisheries in the Adriatic Sea. While working on it I rarely had the chance to talk about it with people outside of the faculty who were also team members of the project that the topic was a part of. Coming to BtS was a chance to hear people from all over the world speak about working on closely related problems and about their experience coming up with solutions and realizing them.”

EvoLogics company demo. Courtesy of Maja Magdalenić.

Jura Vuković: “As for underwater systems and technologies I always thought of under the sea, lakes or rivers. I haven’t read a lot about karst explorations and its importance, so I found the presentation about robots for karst exploration really interesting and new for me. Drinking water is the most important thing for humans and sometimes it can be taken for granted. A lot of it comes from underground karst and exploiting these sources under the right conditions can be quite a challenge. Because of that, we should invest into researching this area. The presentation explained how the teams explored karst with robots as, due to the great difficulties and dangers of the terrain, divers intervening means risking their life. In my opinion, there is a future in researching these vast underground horizons.

“Since I was working with underwater robots for my undergraduate project and BSc thesis and since I am generally very interested in the field of marine robotics, attending the 2021 BtS workshop was a huge pleasure. The lectures that were presented were very interesting and the research done by participants is something I thought you could only see on the Discovery channel.”

Đula Nađ presenting ADRIATIC project tutorial. Courtesy of Maja Magdalenić.

Goran Borković: “I was very intrigued by the story about how even when not using advanced, expensive robots but rather some relatively simple devices for data collection purposes, it can be very challenging when dealing with large depths and ocean conditions that are hard to predict. There were also many examples of how much marine robotics and marine research is used for solving different problems that we face today. For example, underwater robots that can be used for discovering and exploring flooded cave systems that are inaccessible to humans and are potentially large sources of much needed drinking water. Also, as mentioned before, without a special probing device it is impossible to collect sufficient amounts of data (temperature, salinity, pH) that is for example mandatory for assessing the state and dealing with global warming.”

Igor Kvasić introducing wearable sensors in form of a gesture recognition glove. Courtesy of Maja Magdalenić.

Maja Magdalenić: “As a guest of the BtS workshop, I had the opportunity to hear and see plenty of new things that have been developed or are still being developed in the field of marine robotics. Since I am interested in marine robotics and I am also a big fan of diving, what intrigued me the most was the Adriatic project, which aims to improve communication between the diver and his robotic partner, while the ultimate goal is to improve diving safety. Communication between robots and humans in general can be a challenging task, while in underwater conditions it’s even more difficult to accomplish. The development of such underwater communication can be very useful for detecting potential danger for a diver or sending help signals. The robotic partner is very useful, especially for diving in high-risk areas, as we don’t need a live diving buddy this way.

Student attendee discovering underwater scene by controlling a virtual diver as a part of Adriatic project experiment. Courtesy of Maja Magdalenić.

“In addition to the lecture about the Adriatic project, there was also a demonstration in which I had the opportunity to go through a diving simulation with a robotic partner in the form of a game with different tasks that need to be performed. The game gives a pretty realistic view in the world of diving with the robotic partner and it also brings a lot of fun. In addition to other interesting things in the field of diving and marine robotics, I met people of the same interests, hung out with them and exchanged experiences which is also the goal of this event.”

Taking into account these testimonies from our first-time student participants, the BtS workshop is a very useful event to hear and learn new things in the field of marine robotics and robotics in general. It also presents a great opportunity to meet people with similar interests and areas of work and connect with experts in the field. And after all of the above, you can still find some free time to look around the small Croatian town of Biograd na Moru and relax in the beautiful nature that surrounds it.