Central Coast researchers use artificial intelligence for ocean exploration

The vast amount of underwater data now available from autonomous vehicles and ocean sensors is overwhelming for scientists sorting through it, so a team from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) is using artificial intelligence (AI) to develop algorithms that will make the process easier . Algorithms are the guidelines used to program computers and make them smart.

“I want intelligent vehicles to go out into the ocean to scan and look for new life,” said MBARI engineer Kakani Katija.

Katija and her team received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a new database called FathomNet for collecting and labeling underwater images.

She said there’s a lot we don’t know about the ocean and its inhabitants, and AI is a powerful tool for underwater exploration.

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“Scientists estimate that anywhere from 30 to 60% of life in the ocean has yet to be discovered,” Katija said.

She uses existing images to build algorithms for the marine robots. She said the more images she collects, the better the algorithms are.

“I throw [in] many different images of a jellyfish or many different images and views of a shark, and together the algorithm can start to pick up features that distinguish those animals – it can say with some relative certainty that it’s a jellyfish, or it’s a shark,” she said.

Katija said the technology also enables scientists to monitor the impact of climate change or other threats to the ocean.


Joost Daniels © 2019 MBARI


MBARI Chief Engineer Kakani Katija inspects the Mesobot, a new generation underwater robot, during first field trips aboard MBARI’s research vessel Rachel Carson in Monterey Bay. Mesobot is being developed by engineers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and MBARI.

“Robotic vehicles can monitor a place for a long time. We can have a continuous observational presence at a place to let us know when something is different or has changed,” explained Katija.

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The FathomNet database is open to scientists, marine industries and the general public. The project team is also developing a video game.

“Through video games we can invite people to participate in this exploration of the sea. You could be the first person to look at this footage of an animal that was completely unknown to science,” she said.

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Pokemon Go is an example of the type of interactive game that Katija said she wants to create for exploring the ocean.

“A game like Pokémon Go completely changed the behavior of people when they were looking for fake animals, and how can we change behavior through games or games around animals that live here on our planet that we don’t know much about,” she said. said .

The video game is scheduled to be released next year. She said the goal for players is to add to the knowledge base while also becoming good stewards of the ocean.

You can find out more about FathomNet on nature.com.


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