People Directory : Andy Bowen

Andy Bowen

Andy Bowen

Principal Engineer

Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering

Director of National Deep Submergence Facility

Office Phone: +1 508 289 2643

Fax: +1 508 457 2191

» CV

WHOI Mailing Address:

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

266 Woods Hole Rd.

MS# 07

Woods Hole, MA 02543-1050


B.S. University of Rhode Island, 1980, Mechanical/Ocean Engineering

Research Interests

Remotely operated submersibles; propulsion systems; application of close loop control of remotely operated vehicles; introduction of remotely operated systems for oceanographic research.

Research Statement

Over the past thirty years, I have had the privilege of working in a field rich with rewards. Without question, the experience of working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has provided my career with wonderful challenges and opportunities. These have given me the chance to make a range of important contributions in the area of undersea robotics. Over this period of time, much has changed; we have gone from deep ocean survey tools being simple towed vehicles, having the limited ability to “snap pictures”, to today’s tethered and untethered robots exhibiting ever-increasing capabilities to perform a range of complex tasks. For the engineer, there can be no better reward than to have ones’ work herald new opportunities and transform how we understand our environment. In this short narrative, I hope to offer personal thoughts on my role by providing an historical perspective on my experience to date, leading to present challenges and a view forward outlining future objectives and opportunities.

Shortly after I started at WHOI in 1985, a renowned Geologist was notably quoted as saying “manned submersibles are doomed” and that the future belonged not to the past practice of direct human exploration but rather to a new generation of surrogate robotic explorers. The implication was that tethered robots would predominate. Over the intervening period, I believe this prophecy remains unfulfilled. Indeed, it may not be human exploration using submersibles that is doomed but the imagined superseding generation of tethered robots! I come to this conclusion not as the result of some profound inspirational revelation, but rather as the result of seeing a clearer complementary role for robots when teamed with humans, cast against the backdrop of new technologies. I believe this coupling of exploration between humans and technology presents the richest challenge to address as I move into what might be called a more strategic phase of my career.

Before joining WHOI, I spent the early stages of my career working in the commercial area of robotic vehicle development servicing the oil and gas industry and to a lesser extent the Department of Defense. It was during my time working at Benthos Inc. that I became aware of the pending development of full ocean depth robots about to start at WHOI with funding from the U.S. Navy, under the leadership of Bob Ballard. As a young engineer, joining this effort was a dream come true, offering new challenges to learn by doing. The subsequent developments of Jason Junior, Jason and Jason 2 provided increasing levels of technical challenge, ranging from the detailed mechanical design of vehicle systems to a more programmatic involvement in developing new vehicles. Aside from the systems-level technical challenges, I naturally became more involved in the act of bringing these kinds of vehicles into use by the deep submergence scientific communities. While the challenges of getting complex equipment to function at 6,000 meters has been a great source of enjoyment, I have come to appreciate the more abstract objective of bringing new tools into use for science as my most rewarding achievement. This latter objective has involved not only ensuring the vehicles are capable of meeting the need but also working closely with the scientific community. The enterprise of establishing these systems such as Jason and Jason 2 as valuable tools, having a legitimate place in aiding scientific discovery has been at least as difficult. To achieve these goals has involved leading many expeditions at sea and establishing credibility for WHOI’s role in this kind of technological development while also being the public face of the Jason system, working closely to bring new technology to investigators. The rewards have been gaining the personal respect of the community to deliver on what we have set out to do; bringing robots into acceptance as valuable tools. Ultimately, this warranted their inclusion as Research Facilities along side the primary tool of the ALVIN submersible within the National Deep Submergence Facility (NDSF). My role in this effort has been important and a defining achievement of which I am proud.

With the retirement of Barrie Walden in 2008, I assumed leadership of the NDSF. An important part of this responsibility has been to manage a period of transition to bring together a team to lead NDSF. Important changes have involved managing the human capital so critical to proper function of what NDSF does for the oceanographic community. There are no books nor other formal resources telling us how to continue the tradition of achievement and excellence; this all must come from nurturing our people by providing a suitable atmosphere to provide our staff with the opportunities to contribute, grow and fulfill aspirations to contribute and excel. I believe these efforts have thus far been successful but require constant vigilance to remaining effective.

A guiding philosophical principal has been the need to ensure we remain challenged by providing ongoing opportunities for technological development and career growth, while balancing this against the need to ensure our vehicles and services deliver as required. I believe that these challenges are key to providing good people with the upward mobility naturally required to ensure a fulfilling career. To this end, I am active in bringing in development opportunities, not only to improve what we have but also, when appropriate, significantly change what we can do for science.

Our ongoing development of the hybrid vehicle Nereus is a prime example of what I feel is my important continually evolving contribution to the oceanographic community. There is no other place than WHOI where the development of such a new system would have been possible. We have been able to tap our enduring desire to innovate with the practical ability to execute, thereby developing a vehicle type that will perhaps change the prophetic words of “manned submersibles are doomed” to “tethered vehicles are doomed”. By combining the attributes of an autonomous vehicle with those of a tethered vehicle, it seems probable that a re-definition of what “tethered vehicle” means is inevitable.

For an engineer with my background the Nereus vehicle development would appear to represent the “pinnacle” of achievement for there can be no greater challenge than building a robot to go to the deepest part of the world’s oceans. Indeed, I am very pleased with how this project has achieved this objective. As with the other vehicle developments, I hope and trust that Nereus will enable new discoveries. I believe part of the Nereus’ legacy, will be to once again emphasize how WHOI can lead in deep-sea technology development.

Exploration of our oceans is constrained by the need for cost-effective vehicles to explore what we can presently reach and open up the potential to access new parts of the deep sea. The present-generation ROVs such as Jason 2, have extended humans’ reach into the oceans in important ways. Still, deep-water operations with long, heavy tether cables result in high operating costs, including ships with specialized positioning systems, large A-frames and winch systems. Eliminating the need for tethers would change the game of what underwater robotic vehicles cost and how they are used. I believe WHOI is leading the development of several key emerging technologies and capabilities that put us on the brink of “cutting the cord” and building a completely untethered remotely operated vehicle as a derivative to the Nereus. I see our developments in vehicles, control systems software, navigation and communications as important enablers that have the realistic, near term potential to transform how we think of robotic activities for the future. It has been said that there exists a perfect storm of opportunity for WHOI in this area and I am committed to using my experience to move this specific agenda forward.

In summary, I believe the record shows an ability to conceive and execute on new and complex projects within a high-risk, high-return environment. New technologies and the vehicle systems they enable will continue to be an important part of my career. I remain committed to undertaking such work within the framework of the NDSF and supporting the ongoing health and future growth of this important part of the Institution. Finally, I recognize the important responsibility I shoulder to encourage and maintain WHOI’s human capital. Pursuing future technological development opportunities that are both transformational to science and challenging to our staff will help to ensure our ability to innovate and enable the best science into the future.

Notable Achievements at WHOI

Jason Junior

As the mechanical design engineer I had responsibility for the  mechanical design and construction of the vehicle. Jason Jr. was one of the first deep ocean robots. Aside from developing all of the mechanical systems for the vehicle, I think my most important contribution to this effort was learning how to work well within the WHOI system, from purchasing to the mechanical shops and interface with the Alvin Group.

von Alt, C., Bowen, A. and Bergeron, E.M.  "JASON Junior:  System Design and Deep Submergence Vehicle Interface.” Intervention 87 Conference and Exposition.


Working as the primary mechanical design engineer I responsible for the overall vehicle layout and design, receiving input from a range of WHOI staff working on the project. I lead the construction and coordinated the eventual testing of the vehicle. Over several years, I assumed a greater role in working with scientists to help them utilize the capabilities of this new tool, participating in many cruises, in most cases as the expedition leader and leading the effort to bring the vehicle into acceptance by the Ocean Science Community  and its funding agencies. With Ballard’s retirement from WHOI in 1997 , I assumed the formal leadership role of the Jason Group, managing all aspects of its day-to-day operations.

During this time, I believe my contributions fall within two categories. The first was working hard to make the vehicle system a technical reality, capable of routine operations to 6,000 meters. The second was to work with the funders and users to establish Jason and ROVs in general as useful scientific tools. Notable users during this time were scientists such as John Delaney, Dan Fornari and Paul Johnson. I worked hard to partner with such scientists and convince them that the risks of using such untried technology could pay off and produce good science. Overcoming the technical and social challenges remains an accomplishment of which I am proud.

In addition to working with the mainstream oceanographic community during this time I was also pleased to work with archeologists, teachers and members of the marine safety communities. Not only did we play an important role in bringing new robotic technology to main-stream ocean sciences but set new standards for high quality surveys in the deep ocean that remain to this day as landmark work.

Ballard, R.D., Yoerger, D.R., Stewart, W.K. and Bowen, A.  "ARGO/JASON:  A Remotely Operated Survey and Sampling System for Full Ocean Depth.” Oceans 91, 1:71-75, 1991.

Bowen, A., Fornari, D., Howland, J. and Walden B., "The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Remotely - Operated and Towed Vehicle Facilities for Deep Ocean Research - Information and Technical Specifications, Version 1.0, July 22, 1993.

Fornari, D.J., Bowen, A.D. and Foster, D.B.   “Visualizing the Deep Sea.” Oceanus, Vol. 38, No. 1, 10-13, Spring/Summer 1995.

Bowen, A.   “M.V. Derbyshire Phase 2 Survey, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Cruise Report 1:209-1:230, In:  Williams, R. and Torchio, D.R., M.V. Derbyshire Surveys UK/EC Assessors  Report,ï  March 1998.

Wall, J.F., Williams, R.A., Torchio, R., Bowen, A. and Glykas, A. “M.V. Derbyshire Colloquium, Survey and Assessment 1996 – 1997.” Royal Institute of Naval Architects, 1998.

Letter from Tony Blair to Bill Clinton acknowledging WHOI’s role on the MV Derbyshire Survey.


Jason 2

With the eventual success of the original Jason ROV came increasing use of the vehicle. During this time, I participated in nearly all of the fiald programs while having overall responsibility for the technical upkeep on the system and sustaining of a team of well qualified people to operate the system. I continued to be the primarily representative for the system with both the funding agencies and user communities.

As demand for the vehicle expanded, it also became clear that our initial design was too conservative and perhaps not sufficiently directed toward providing an ALVIN-like capability in terms of payload and manipulative functions. As a result and with support from NSF and WHOI, a program to revise the Jason vehicle began. In its second incarnation, Jason pushed to the edge of what could be done within the limitations of what had become the standard fiber optic oceanographic cable. The overall program responsibility for this re-design rested on my shoulders.

Partially as a result of our success in performing the MV Derbyshire survey for the UK’s Government, we secured additional funds to build a second vehicle (Isis) destined to become a national asset for that country’s ocean science community. This involved overcoming technical challenges associated with place a new vehicle into the hands of an operational group other than our own.

Jason 2 has since gone on to be regarded as the gold standard of deep-diving scientific ROVs and the system remains in high demand, often performing 4 or 5 cruises a year, worldwide. True to DSL’s roots, we continue to seek new capabilities for the system while ensuring the vehicle is a reliable tool for science.
Robert Elder, Andrew D. Bowen, Matthew Heintz, Matthew Naiman, Christopher Taylor, William Sellers, Jonathan C. Howland, and Louis L. Whitcomb. Jason 2: A Review of Capabilities. In EOS Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 2003 Fall Meeting Supplement, 84(46) Abstract OS32A-0226, San Francisco, December 2003.

Bowen, A., Fornari, D., Howland, J. and Walden B. "The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Remotely - Operated and Towed Vehicle Facilities for Deep Ocean Research - Information and Technical Specifications”, Version 1.0, July 22, 1993.


National Deep Submergence Facility Director

With retirement of Barrie Walden from WHOI, I assumed leadership of the NDSF. While there remains a strong technical component to this responsibility, it is primarily an administrative task, relating to the management of a large diverse group of people who sustain and operate ALVIN, Jason and the AUV Sentry. The annual operating budget for the Facility is approximately $3-4M. This include both the costs of mounting the various planned field programs and also the engineering and upgrades needed to ensure the vehicles remain at the leading edge of undersea technology. Aside from managing the day-to-day operations of the Facility, I interact heavily with internal WHOI management, the funding agencies (NOAA, ONR and NSF) and the scientific users of the assets.

Bowen, A., Fornari, D., Howland, J. and Walden B. "The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Remotely - Operated and Towed Vehicle Facilities for Deep Ocean Research - Information and Technical Specifications”, Version 1.0, July 22, 1993.

Bowen, A. and Walden, B.B. "Manned Versus Unmanned Systems:  A Complimentary Approach.” Marine Technology Society Journal, Vol. 26, No. 4, 79-80, Winter 92-93.


Hybrid Vehicle Nereus and Future Development

It remains a personal priority to continue with the development of new technologies relevant to ocean sciences and I try to balance my administrative responsibilities against new and exciting projects. During the past several years I have been leading the development of the Nereus hybrid vehicle. The challenges inherent in this project have been significant and I am proud of the success achieved. Conceiving, designing, building and testing a vehicle capable of reaching 11,000 meters is the pinnacle of undersea robotic challenges.

To overcome these challenges has required bringing together 3 Federal Funding Agencies to support a team made up of the most talented individuals I have had the pleasure of working with. While the project has been centered at WHOI, the team has been made up of people from other research and government laboratories, making Nereus the product of a large and diverse group.

Indeed, I believe that our solution to the 11,000 challenge has resulted in an important vehicle that has shown a new way forward applicable to “shallow” systems. While material advances such as ceramics, low-power manipulation, large scale energy storage and efficient lighting and imaging are important, it is likely that continued re-definition of how vehicles are tethered will be one of the Nereus Project’s lasting legacies.

Looking forward to new challenges, it is clear that further advances in vehicle technologies will create important opportunities to both improve access to the sea and open new opportunities for exploration not previously available.

Bowen, A.D., Yoerger, D.R, Taylor, C., McCabe, R., Howland, J., Gomez-Ibanez, D., Kinsey, J.C, Heintz, M., McDonald, G., Peters, D.B., Bailey, J., Bors, E., Shank, T. “Field Trials of the Nereus Hybrid Underwater Robotic Vehicle in the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench.” In Proceedings of IEEE/MTS Oceans 2009, Mississippi, October 26, 2009.

Bowen, A., Jakuba, M., Yoerger, D., German, C., Kinsey, J.C., Whitcomb, L.L., Mayer, L. "Lightly tethered unmanned underwater vehicle for under-ice exploration," Aerospace Conference, 2012 IEEE , vol., no., pp.1-12, 3-10 March 2012
doi: 10.1109/AERO.2012.6187038

Bowen, A. D., D. R. Yoerger, C. C. German, J. C. Kinsey, M. V. Jakuba, D. Gomez-Ibanez, C.L. Taylor, C. Machado, J. C. Howland, C. L. Kaiser, M. Heintz, C. Pontbriand, S. Suman, L. O’hara, L. L. Whitcomb, C.J. McFarland, and L. Mayer. Design and preliminary engineering trials of Nereid-UI: A remotely operated underwater vehicle for oceanographic access under ice. In Proceedings IEEE/MTS Oceans Conference and Exhibition, St. Johns, Canada, Sept. 2014.

Bowen, A.D., M.V. Jakuba, N.E. Farr, J. Ware, C. Taylor, D. Gomez-Ibanez, C.R. Machado, and C. Pontbriand (In press) “An Un-Tethered ROV for Routine Access and Intervention in the Deep Sea.” MTS/IEEE OCEANS 2013 Conference, San Diego, CA, 23-26 Sept.


WHOI Senior Technical Staff Award, 2000.

W.M. Keck Technology Innovation Award, 1/01/2000-3/31/03.

Green Technology Innovation Award

GlobalSpec Great Moments in Engineering Award