Exploring the ocean depths with a machine-learning robot

Kakani Katija grew up wanting to be an explorer and dreamed of becoming an astronaut. She studied aerospace engineering and then interned at NASA, but her dreams changed when she became fascinated with a place even less well explored than space: Earth’s oceans.

The ocean represents the largest habitable ecosystem on the planet, yet less than 5% has been explored, and it is estimated that nearly half of all marine species have yet to be described. Katija is working on new autonomous robotic systems that could help solve this problem.

Her ideas about how to develop an autonomous robot began when Katija was in graduate school. She collaborated with marine biologists Jack Costello at Providence College and Sean Colin at Roger Williams University on a project driven by the U.S. National Science Foundation. The team was interested in jellyfish propulsion and what it might mean for underwater vehicle development. Katija’s aerospace engineering background brought an invaluable perspective to the project, and the diversity of the team’s perspectives proved invaluable to the success of the research.

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