Skip to content

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Establishes New Center for Marine Robotics

January 8, 2013

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) announces a new Center for Marine Robotics. The Center brings together academic, national security, and industrial partners with the goal of applying the full potential of computation and intelligence to bear to the ocean.

“WHOI envisions the Center as the place where the future of robotic technology and capability in the ocean can be imagined and then brought to reality,” says Susan Avery, president and director of WHOI. “We are only at the beginning of understanding what these vehicles, instruments, and systems can do working together in the ocean.”

WHOI is a recognized leader in the research, development, and deployment of robotic and related systems whose methods and technologies have proven their value in a range of applications. It leads the National Deep Submergence Facility, which operates the submersible Alvin, the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry, and the remotely operated vehicle Jason. In addition, WHOI scientists and engineers have developed the REMUS AUV, which is widely used for national security and environmental surveying purposes, the SeaBED-class of AUVs for surveying and imaging a range of ocean environments including under ice, as well as the Hybrid Remotely Operated Vehicle Nereus, the only unmanned science system capable of working in the deepest parts of Earth’s ocean.

The CMR builds on WHOI’s exceptional capability in the world of robotic technology and its application in science, security, and defense purposes, and enlarges it by working in partnership with institutions from across the country with long-established expertise in other aspects of robotics science. These partners include Georgia Tech Research Institute, Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics, and the University of Rhode Island Ocean Exploration Trust.  This collaboration forms perhaps the largest web of capability and expertise applied to the field of marine robotics.

In addition to academic partners, the CMR will also work with defense agencies and organizations to enhance national security, by exploiting robotic technology to carry out missions that would put either people at risk or require very expensive surface ships. The final group of partners will be from various sectors of industry, to introduce robotic systems that will enable them to do their work more safely, more effectively, with less environmental risk, and at greater cost savings. This includes work such as offshore oil exploration and production, which is extending into deeper or more difficult to access territory, deep sea mining, environmental monitoring, and other aspects of commercial resource development in the ocean.

The CMR also receives invaluable feedback and direction from an external advisory group comprising science, industry, academic and government representatives. These advisors include: Gary Roughead (Chairman), former Chief of Naval Operations; JamesCameron, explorer and filmmaker; Larry Clark, President, Deerbrook Charitable Trust, former Director of Division of Ocean Sciences, NSF; David Mindel, Director Laboratory for Automation Robotics and Society, MIT; Hagen Schempf, Principal Systems Scientist, Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, and Director of Hazardous Environments Robotics Lab; Jean Tempel, Managing Director, First Light Capital, Director, Sonesta International Hotels and Dana Farber Cancer Institute; Chuck Thorpe, Provost, Clarkson University, former Assistant Director, Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics, OSTP, former Director of Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute and dean CMU, Qatar; and John Tylko, Vice President of Business Development, Aurora Flight Sciences.

Dr. Dana Yoerger, senior scientist at WHOI, has been appointed interim director of the CMR.  Dr. Yoerger is an internationally recognized expert in undersea vehicles and autonomy and has participated in many of the major advances in marine robotics over his 35 year career.  A search for a permanent director is ongoing.

“This is an exciting opportunity to create something with our partners that’s much bigger than the sum of the parts,” says Dr. Yoerger. “By working together, we can build the network of expertise that will really bring about some remarkable changes.”

For WHOI, marine robotics are essential in the Institution’s key mission to understand the ocean. Given the changes that are occurring now – rising sea levels, warming oceans, changing currents, melting ice, changing biological composition of the ocean –the capability to monitor, measure, predict, and adapt to these changes is critical to understanding the impacts of these changes on society and developing mitigation solutions.

More information about the Center for Marine Robotics is available at

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit 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 oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans’ role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit