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James Bellingham Appointed Director of WHOI Center for Marine Robotics

July 2, 2014

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has appointed James Bellingham as the first director of its Center for Marine Robotics.

Bellingham will come to WHOI in early fall 2014 from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), where he was director of engineering and most recently chief technologist. Bellingham earned his PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was founder and manager of the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Laboratory.  He was also co-founder of Bluefin Robotics in 1997, a Massachusetts-based company that develops, builds and operates autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).  Bluefin was later acquired by Battelle.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jim to Woods Hole Oceanographic,” said WHOI President and Director Susan Avery. “His combination of a strong academic research background, entrepreneurial business savvy, and experience working with other academic, nonprofit, private sector, and government sectors will help advance the field of marine robotics and speed its application for science and a broad range of other uses.”

“Marine robotics is in its infancy, with tremendous potential to transform our understanding of the ocean,” said Bellingham.  “I’m excited to join WHOI, with its outstanding history of advancing the ocean sciences through technology innovation. Our goals will be to foster a vibrant and innovative community, and to direct new robotic capabilities at solving important ocean science problems.”

Bellingham is the author of dozens of scholarly papers, has participated in research expeditions around the world – from Monterey Bay to the Mediterranean Sea to the Antarctic – and has served on numerous scientific advisory boards and steering committees, including chairing the Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) and serving on four National Academy studies.

“Jim is a forward looking person skilled in leading an innovative and entrepreneurial enterprise – which are highly valued traits in the WHOI culture,” said WHOI Executive Vice President and Director of Research Larry Madin. “Our scientists and engineers are continuously advancing boundaries of knowledge in key areas of research and inventing new ways of working on and in ocean.”

The Center for Marine Robotics at WHOI was established in 2012 to speed development of robotic technologies through collaboration with industry sponsors, academic partners, and key government agencies to change the way people and machines work together in the marine environment. CMR academic partners include Carnegie Mellon Univ. Robotics Institute, Draper Laboratory, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Johns Hopkins Univ. Lab for Computational Sensing and Robotics, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and Univ. of Rhode Island Ocean Exploration Trust.

The CMR Advisory Board members are a distinguished group with deep experience and commitment to ocean science. Among its members are former Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead, Academy Award winning screenwriter, director and producer, and deepsea expedition leader James Cameron, and former Director of Division of Ocean Sciences, National Science Foundation Larry Clark.

“We’ve worked with Jim since his days at MIT in the early ‘90s. Our relationship has been both collaborative and respectfully competitive,” said interim CMR Director Dana Yoerger, a leading researcher in robotics and unmanned vehicles with the WHOI Deep Submergence Lab. “Jim has been a leader in developing robotic technologies and methodologies that have created new opportunities across many oceanographic disciplines.  CMR has found a capable, experienced leader in subsea robotics with unmatched credentials and accomplishments who appreciates WHOI’s strengths and the opportunities and challenges in front of us. I’m very eager for Jim to bring his experience in academia, industry, and government to WHOI.”

“Under Jim’s leadership, CMR will advance a vision of the future of marine robotics through world-class research and development; create new technologies; prove them in real-world operations; and apply them to societal problems and economic development through new public-private sector partnerships,” said Avery.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit

Comments on the appointment of James Bellingham to direct the WHOI Center for Marine Robotics

“Jim Bellingham is one of the true visionaries in the field of Marine Robotics.  He will be a perfect fit at WHOI.”
Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research, Office of Naval Research

“We’ve known Jim from the beginning of our involvement in AUVs for oceanography.  He’s been a leading innovator in autonomous ocean vehicles for over fifteen years.  A trip I took with Jim on Stellwagen Bank in 1996 made me a believer in AUV technology.  I watched his first AUV for ONR, the Odyssey vehicle, swim away from the ship and miraculously return two hours later.  We looked at [images of] the bottom within minutes of it coming on board – that was the second miracle.  I’m looking forward to the advances in marine robotics that will result from Jim’s leadership at WHOI.”
Dr. Frank Herr
Head, Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department, Office of Naval Research

“Jim will be great for CMR, WHOI and the future of marine robotics.  His unmatched experience and his appreciation of the potential and promise of robotic technology are what is needed to move the Center forward.”
Adm. (ret.) Gary Roughead, former Chief of Naval Operations, member CMR Advisory Board

“I am delighted Dr. Jim Bellingham has been selected to be the Director of the new Center for Marine Robotics.  His experience, talent, and vision are perfect for the leader of this new endeavor. My best wishes to Jim and to WHOI.  A marvelous partnership!”
Dr. Rita Colwell
Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies
Former director of the National Science Foundation

“This is a tremendous coup for WHOI to have recruited a researcher with the vision and energy of Jim Bellingham. He has consistently been at the forefront of marine robotics anticipating and leading each new wave of technological innovation that has enabled entirely new modes of research capability. He works seamlessly across the science-engineering interface to bring new tools to lower the cost while increasing the scientific return for our research investment.”
Dr. Marcia McNutt
Editor-in-Chief, Science
Former Director, U.S. Geological Survey
Former CEO, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

“In his partnership with Battelle and Bluefin, Jim has been both a natural leader and a rare researcher combining imagination with pragmatism to generate novel advances.”
Stephen E Kelly
President, National Security, Battelle

“Jim is one of those people who is highly respected both in the academic research community and among those who are out in the field getting real work done. Great catch for WHOI!”
Chuck Thorpe
Senior Vice President and Provost, Clarkson University
Former Director, Carnegie Mellon Univ. Robotics Institute

“This is great news; Jim is the ideal, best-qualified person to lead CMR.”
Dr. David Mindell
Professor, Program in Science Technology and Society, MIT