March 2020 OES Beacon

Obituary on D. Richard “Dick” Blidberg

Dick Blidberg at the Gala party of AUV2016

January 1, 1945 – September 1 2019

It is with sadness that we have recently lost another valuable member of our technical community with the passing of Dick Blidberg. Following is some background on Dick and personnel comments from some of our members.

D. Richard Blidberg: From the AUVAC: (Autonomous Undersea Vehicle Applications Center)

D. Richard Blidberg received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in 1972. He co-founded the Marine Systems Engineering Laboratory (MSEL) at UNH in 1976. In 1993 the laboratory moved from UNH to Northeastern University where he served as Director of MSEL. Since 1995 he has been Director of the Autonomous Undersea Systems Institute (AUSI) in Lee, NH, which he founded in 1993. He established AUV Associates, LLC in 2000 and continued as a managing partner. He recently founded the AUV Applications center which he directed. He has written several papers and reports on unmanned untethered submersible technology, as well as organized 17 international symposia on AUV technology. He has over 100 publications related to AUV technology and served on several science and engineering committees, consulted for a number of companies, and was involved in a number of international collaborations. He was an associate editor for the IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering for underwater vehicle systems for 15 years.

Three boy’s chronicle

Dick, I miss you! – Tamaki Ura:

When I started working in AUV R&D, in 1984, I learned that there are two great AUV pioneers in the world: George Russel from Heriot Watt University and Dick Blidberg from the University of New Hampshire. I met George in 1986, and then, in 1989, I met Dick at the UUST (Symposium on Unmanned Untethered Submersible).  He showed me his “Eave East” and explained it in detail. Dick organized UUST every other year and I became a regular. Anthony Healey (Naval Postgraduate School) and Dana Yoerger (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) were also regulars. UUST was full of young people and was exciting with academic flavor. I am sure that many young people who participated in UUSTs are now working to develop the next generation of AUV technology and underwater engineering. This is a great achievement by Dick. I also brought to UUST many students from Japan. Some of them are now very active in Japanese AUV R&D.

Dick used “Drop your tether!” as a slogan of UUST and said the meeting should always be comfortable. He requested that everyone “Take off your tie!” at the beginning of UUST. Once, Dick beckoned a gentleman sitting nearby to come up, pinched his tie, and cut it with scissors.  All of the attendees smiled, relaxed a bit and made themselves comfortable. Researchers should be free from any restriction, so . . . “Drop your tether!”

The lobster Party was always fun and we were accustomed to joking at the bar in the New England Center drinking several drams of Whiskey. The picture (Three boy’s chronicle) shows three “drunkards” taken at the New England Center—Dick and me together with Dana in 1995. Ten years later, the middle one was taken at Genova in the same pose, and then, the bottom picture was taken during the 2016 AUV Symposium in Tokyo. I invited Dana, but he could not come, so Carl Kaiser is in the photo on behalf of Dana. The set of three pictures is a monument of the long history of our friendship.

A demonstration of cutting the tie of Toshiriho Maki (R)

As an event in the middle of the Gala party of AUV 2016, Dick gave a lecture, followed by a demonstration of cutting the tie of Toshiriho Maki. This was the last time I met Dick and we enjoyed the symposium together.

Dick, patiently wait with a drink of Whisky in heaven for me. I will not come for a while.

Bill Kirkwood:

To many Dick would seem a bit like a curmudgeon when it came to technical topics on autonomous vehicle systems. The reality was he was trying to pass along valuable lessons and knowledge, trying to prevent meetings from wandering off topic and doing his best to help the new (younger generation) make their way in the “business.” He gathered valuable information, volumes of proceedings from UUST and his famously successful web page that had the largest collection of AUV knowledge available in a single site with the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Application Center auvac.org/ .

Dick was always thoughtful in his remarks. Always careful to be exact. Always polite while making a point. Always focused on doing things better, going farther, and moving the field of autonomous robots ahead. He was supportive of the IEEE – OES AUV Symposia and all that went with that.

An international man with friends around the globe. We will miss you Dick, the world of autonomy has suffered a setback that will be hard to impossible to replace. RIP in Dick.

The Special Session at the OCEANS 2020 Singapore:

OCEANS 2020 Singapore will be holding a special session on Autonomous Underwater Vehicle in memory of Dick to acknowledge his numerous contributions to the field of Autonomous Marine Systems.