June 2022 OES Beacon

Who’s Who In The IEEE OES – Robert Wernli

 Robert Wernli, Beacon Co-Editor-in-Chief, OES AdCom

Well, unfortunately, our planned Who’s Who author injured his hand and can’t type. So, we will reschedule him and, at the last minute, Harumi and I decided I would do a quick article as a filler. So, what should I write about? Those within the OES who I have worked with for a long time know my society background. I’ve been on AdCom, ExCom and have spent over 20 years as a member or chair of RECON, focused on taking our OCEANS conference around the world, which we have done.

With that said, how did I get to this level in my career? Well, I started out at a very early age. As I grew up, I became fascinated with space as shown in the adjacent photo of me and my telescope.  The below photo of my telescope box also testifies to my vision. I also cut out every article in the newspapers (unlike Google, those are printed news that are delivered to your house each morning). I cut out rocket and satellite launches, such as Sputnik and Vanguard, and documented them in my notebooks, along with space in general. I used them to help teach my junior high school science class on astronomy. (And I still have all of it).

Time marched on and when graduating from high school, my counselor supported my desire to have a career in astronomy. Unfortunately, a career as a professional astronomer was a bit beyond my amateur vision of space.

My 2.5 years in junior college included rushing fraternities more than studying.  I spent 3 years in the Army that included a year in Vietnam; the Army wasn’t in my planned career path, but there was one major benefit. A friend I met in the Army in 1967 (oh, oh…I’m dating myself), and his fiancée, set me up with a colleague, Beverley, who became my pen-pal. After writing for 5 months, we finally met and 5 months later we got married, just 4 months before I went overseas for a year. Upon returning, we were stationed in Monterey, CA, for just under a year before moving to Santa Barbara, CA, where I went back to college at UCSB. And, that is where my career path changed.

I still loved space and got a part time job at a research company in Santa Barbara working on the Infrared Thermal Mapper, a device that went to Mars on the Viking orbiter.

Unfortunately, my fledgling space career ended there because in the early 70’s that market essentially crashed and a lot of the professionals were becoming unemployed. On the positive side, I took a course in ocean engineering at UCSB, which was very interesting, and it led to a job interview with a rep from the Naval Undersea Center (NUC) in San Diego. They were developing these robots that worked undersea. Very interesting. I then made the decision to drive from Santa Barbara to San Diego and took a job with NUC, thus completing my transition from outer space to inner space.

Working at NUC (one of the many, many names it has been called over the years) I began my career in developing Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). The career of ROVernli had begun.

Now, at the beginning of my career, ROVs were just being developed, mostly by the Navy since they had the need to access the ocean to depths of 20,000 feet, which covers 98% of the ocean. Although we were developing these deep ocean vehicles and work systems, our goal was to pass the technology to industry so we could have products that we could buy, not build ourselves. Although we were also developing the smaller ROVs, my focus was on the larger, much larger, vehicles that could be used to recover airplanes and other very large objects. (See photo).

With the goal of transferring technology to industry, the Navy was very interested in what industry was doing and who the actual leaders were. Enter the OCEANS conferences. My first OCEANS was in 1975 in San Diego, and many more were to follow. By giving papers on the technology that the Navy was trying to transition to industry, many doors opened to me via such networking. (Yes, that is the biggest benefit to attendees who are building their careers.) Add to this that, at that time, the Navy lab supported attendance at such conferences, including internationally, and that also opened more doors. Because we wanted to understand international technology, I was able to visit many companies when travelling to or returning from such events.

Technology continued to march on. With the size reductions of many electrical, electronic and mechanical components, we soon transitioned to the development of smaller vehicles, that in some cases, could be operated from larger vehicles. Today, with the advancements in the array of miniaturized vehicles, that such technological advancements have allowed, there isn’t much we can’t do underwater.

Documenting such advancements, so that industry knows the past, and potential future of ROV technology, led to my co-authoring books such as The ROV Manual. But technical writing wasn’t my only desire. Once The Hunt for Red October came out, I, and many lab associates, became interested in such techno-thrillers. And there were plenty of them. The problem was that some of these authors took liberties with the laws of physics. During a walk with my wife, some years back, I was complaining about this issue; “So, write your own book,” she said. So, I did. I published my own award-winning techno-thriller, Second Sunrise, in 2003 (see next photo), and a few others since then. And . . . no one has yet pointed out a problem with my advanced technology that I ensured did NOT break the laws of physics.

Moving onward, I retired from the Navy lab in 2005 and consulted for another 15 years until the Covid virus pretty much shut down such opportunities. And, that is fine with me. I had a good run developing and documenting such advanced technology and expanding its applications.

A side benefit is that I have more time to support the society and work on producing our quarterly newsletter. I’ll just be happy when we can get back together in person at our conferences and meetings. Zoom meetings are a great asset, but they can’t replace the grip-and-grin interactions at our conferences.

Now I can focus on more free time and get back to working on my next novel. I also look forward to enjoying more long walks around a nearby lake with my lovely wife of 54 years and counting.

See you at the OCEANS 2022 Hampton Roads. Cheers.