The MORPH project proposes a novel concept of an underwater robotic system that emerges out of integrating, albeit in a non-physical manner, different mobile robot-modules with distinct and complementary resources. It will provide efficient methods to map the underwater environment with great accuracy in situations that defy existing technology: namely underwater surveys over rugged terrain and structures with full 3D complexity, including walls with a negative slope. Its applications cover a wide range of scientific and commercial areas such as monitoring of cold water coral reefs, oil and gas pipeline inspection, harbor and dam protection.
The MORPH supra-vehicle (MSV) is in sharp contrast to classical monolithic vehicles or even cooperative groups of marine vehicles that, operating safely away from each other, lack the capability of supporting multi-sensor interaction in close vicinity of the terrain. Without rigid links, with its modules physically separated from each other, the MSV can reconfigure itself and adapt in response to the terrain shape. This allows new applications where multiple instruments must be operated and geo-referenced very close to the underwater terrain even under severely adverse conditions, e.g. close to negative slope walls, where precise localization of a single vehicle is not possible. Inter-module interactions are allowed by underwater acoustic communication networks at far and close ranges and vision at very close range.
The MORPH concept supports qualitatively new behaviors such as adaptive sensor placement for perception and navigation, as well as environmental modeling in complex, uncertain environments. It will lead to a solution well beyond the operational state of the art for underwater cliff surveys and other similar missions with far reaching scientific and commercial applications. A demonstration on a vertical cliff, unfeasible automatically with today's technology, will validate the efficacy of the methods developed.