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New Centre of Excellence – marine operations:

Aiming farther, deeper and colder

The Centre for Autonomous Marine Operations and Systems (AMOS) will bring the city of Trondheim world-class status in research on intelligent ships, unmanned vehicles and robots that operate under extreme conditions.

“Our objectives are clear and ambitious. It is essential that we do not let ourselves be stymied by arrogance and ignorance,” says Asgeir J. Sørensen, director of the new Centre for Autonomous Marine Operations and Systems (AMOS).

By arrogance he means the tendency among many academics to be defensive about their own scientific field rather than being open to collaboration with other disciplines. According to Professor Sørensen ignorance comes from not staying abreast of new developments.

The AMOS project portfolio is large and complex but the common thread is clearly evident: At the new centre, many research groups will be collaborating to develop innovations in intelligent control systems and other technology for use at sea, in a subsea setting, or in the air, as an aid for humans in their work or as completely autonomous systems. These intelligent systems will operate where humans can not or prefer not to be, either because it is too dangerous, too dirty, too cold, or simply too monotonous.

Photo: AMOS DRONES: A fleet of drones could, for instance, systematically search a large ocean area during a rescue operation, or be used to monitor natural resources, or investigate an environmental threat. Drones have uses far beyond military applications. Here Professor Tor Arne Johansen of the AMOS centre displays a model. (Photo: AMOS)

More emphasis on ICT, nano- and biotechnology

The AMOS centre builds upon the legacy of the Centre for Ships and Ocean Structures (CeSOS), a recently concluded SFF centre whose research focused on the interface between marine technology and engineering cybernetics. AMOS will incorporate a stronger ICT component in addition to including specialist communities in areas such as marine biology, nanotechnology and biotechnology.

“Our objective is to further raise the level of intelligence in technology and bring us closer to completely autonomous systems,” explains Professor Sørensen.

Smarter, safer and greener systems

AMOS researchers will be developing new systems for use in industries such as shipping, petroleum and energy, fishing and aquaculture, offshore renewable energy, marine minerals and marine science. These systems are to be used for mapping and monitoring and taking decisions in unforeseen situations in Arctic and deepwater environments.

“A full 70 per cent of Norway’s export revenues come from these kinds of industries,” says Professor Sørensen. “The AMOS centre will provide new knowledge to make these industries’ technologies smarter, safer and greener.”

“Norway already has strengths in many of these fields. While there are many who may be better than we are in certain niches, we have a good opportunity to become the best because we can work with expertise and technology transfer in an integrated fashion in what we can call a ?super-cluster'.”

Basic research as well as innovation

“Our primary role is to deliver good basic research,” continues Professor Sørensen. “But we have a longstanding tradition in technology spheres in Norway for the research community and industry to pull together. There’s no contradiction between excellence in research and high relevance to industry.”

One of AMOS’ partners, the international Norwegian energy company Statoil, is already very active in several of the centre’s main priority areas: optimisation of offshore renewable energy and marine operations in Arctic and deepwater environments.

NTNU is building up a top-notch environment for efforts on unmanned vehicles both airborne and under water. The fact that AMOS will be deeply involved in developing smarter, safer and greener ships is welcome news for Norwegian ship owners looking to scale up activities in the northern areas. The oil and gas sector also needs solutions for its expansion northward, and underwater robots are opening up opportunities to expand into Arctic regions and in deep water.

Photo: Ronny Danielsen Asgeir J. Sørensen (Photo: Ronny Danielsen) Collaborating with the best

The centre’s main partners comprise Statoil, Det Norske Veritas (DNV) and the SINTEF Group. A broad group of Norwegian industrial companies is also involved in the centre’s activities.

In addition, AMOS has secured many international partners, among them NASA, which will be collaborating to solve challenges relating to autonomy – since there are many similarities between operations in space and under water.

Another partner is the institution behind the expedition that found the Titanic, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This, along with other international partners and the Norwegian companies Kongsberg Gruppen and the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), will be carrying out research with the AMOS centre on intelligent, autonomous unmanned underwater and aerial vehicles (also known as drones).

Drones can be used for far more than just military missions. According to the centre director, the possibilities are practically unlimited. A fleet of drones could, for instance, systematically search a large ocean area during a rescue operation, or be used to monitor natural resources, or investigate an environmental threat.

Skilled women at the helm

Professor Sørensen understands that all this will be a lot to tackle – and that some of the plans may still be on the drawing board ten years from now. But he has high hopes for the strong team of project managers now in place.

The director is proud of the gender balance achieved at the centre. “The management team is a 50/50 mix of women and men, even though we work in a traditionally male-dominated field,” he states. “And when it comes to students, I’m also very optimistic about the rising ratio of women.”

Two departments at NTNU are at the core of the AMOS centre: the Department of Marine Technology and the Department of Engineering Cybernetics. Both departments have managed to nearly double their ranks of female students over the past ten years to comprise almost 40 per cent of new students.

“With our positive role models on the management team, I hope and believe this will carry over to the Ph.D. level so we’ll be able to recruit many women at AMOS and ultimately into senior positions in both academia and industry,” says Asgeir J. Sørensen.

“The AMOS centre will be working on major global issues such as how to make our most important industries smarter, greener and safer. I believe this holds great appeal to students of both genders.”

Centre for Autonomous Marine Operations and Systems (AMOS)
  • Objective: To establish a world-leading research centre in autonomous marine operations and systems.
  • Centre director: Asgeir J. Sørensen
  • Annual allocation from the Research Council: NOK 17.5 million
  • Total person-years: over 50
  • No. of doctoral degrees planned: over 100 (including associated projects)


Written by:
Siw Ellen Jakobsen/Else Lie. Translation: Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann
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