Monthly Archives: July 2018

Boats and Drones and Sharks – Oh My!

By: Andrew Q. Pham

Hey everyone! I am a rising undergraduate junior in the Lab for Autonomous and Intelligent Robotics (LAIR) at Harvey Mudd College. My lab mainly works on multi-robot systems and their applications in the field. Many modern-day tasks that humans must perform can be dangerous, time-consuming, and/or mundane. One goal of robotics is to alleviate this burden, and oftentimes make the tasks more efficient. My project is attempting to make acquiring video footage of sharks easier and less time-consuming.


The project is in collaboration with CSU Long Beach’s Shark Lab. Many biologist, like those at Shark Lab, use video recordings of animals in their natural habitat to study their behavior. However, tracking and monitoring sharks is a lengthy endeavor. Researchers must spend long hours (24-72 hours) on boats to acquire data. This project is specifically attempting to make this process easier by using multiple autonomous quadcopters to capture overhead footage of sharks.


Most consumer grade quadcopters are incredibly nimble and small, being able to survey an area quickly. However, the tradeoff for this agility is a small battery life (about 20 minutes for the quadcopters I use).

To counteract this limited battery life, a few autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) are included in our multi-robot system. ASVs are basically autonomous boats. For this system, they function as landing platforms and recharge stations for the quadcopters. The general idea of the system is to have the quadcopters patrol over an area where the sharks are located, recording footage the entire time. The ASVs will be stationed nearby, and the quadcopter will periodically land on them to recharge.


My research specifically focuses on creating an algorithm that coordinates the motion of the quadcopters. However, what I do day-to-day varies drastically. Somedays I will be working on hardware, building components for the ASV or debugging electronics. Other days I will be working on software, coding up simulations or brainstorming the math for the algorithm. Currently, I am putting the finishing touches on the system before I perform full trials.

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Where I do my work also varies drastically. One week I may be back at my college campus, touching base with my research advisor or gathering parts for the robots. Another week I may be back at the Wrigley Marine Science Center (WMSC) on Santa Catalina Island, deploying and testing the robots in Big Fisherman Cove. Even though the work and travel can get hectic, it is overall incredibly fun.

One thing that helped to keep this crazy amount of work manageable has been the 2018 Wrigley Summer Fellowship. The Wrigley Fellowship has been helpful for my research, giving me place to effectively test the robots as well as a place to stay. I only have a couple weeks of my summer research left to go and a whole lot left to do. But, so far, this summer has been educative, exciting, and gone by too fast!

Feel free to contact me at if you have any further questions.

Diving into Marine Biology

By: Hunter Ramo

The Wrigley Institute’s NSF Research Experiences for Undergrads (REU) projects have really picked up in the past few weeks. From collecting water samples, to pressurizing kelp, everyone can be found working hard on their research throughout the day. The dock has become a center for people moving in and out with samples and leaving to perform field research. It has been incredible seeing the progression as we began as novices just learning to use the equipment but now look like experts running our own experiments.

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For my research, I’m studying the impacts of predation on growth and sex ratios of a small hermaphroditic fish species, the bluebanded goby. My research has entered its second trial, an exciting step that will provide me with a lot of new data. With my grad student mentor, George Jarvis, I have traveled around Catalina examining different reefs and collecting bluebanded gobies, that are tagged to track their growth. Then, we release the gobies onto artificial reefs with differing amounts of mesh to control for the presence of predators. At the end of the trial, the gobies will be recollected and analyzed for sex, length, and biomass to provide us with information about how the presence of predators impacted the fish.

Seeing as this is the second trial, I have already performed the process once before and am still analyzing the data from trial one. While the experiment is in process, I’m diving on the reefs almost every day observing fish behavior and predator presence.

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No dive is ever boring, as you never know what you are going to see. Recently we have been visited by soupfin sharks, sculpins, eels, octopi, harbor seals, and on an extremely lucky occasion, a giant black seabass. Recently I have brought my camera on dives to try and capture and share the amazing sights I see every day. The waters around Catalina vary greatly in temperature and visibility, but over the past few weeks, the area around Wrigley has taken a turn for the better as the water has warmed up, allowing for more oceanfront fun.

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Even with all the work we have, the REUs still find the time to have fun together. Our nightly beach volleyball games are becoming more intense as all the players have been improving. When we are not on the court, you can find us hanging out in the dining hall watching a movie or improving our ping pong skills. Every day feels like a summer camp and I am so happy that I made the decision to apply to this program. We have become a close knit group and I am already dreading the end of the summer and having to leave all my new friends.

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