6 October, 2015

New Centre for Doctoral Training in smart observation systems

British Antarctic Survey (BAS), together with partners at the University of Southampton, Heriot-Watt University, the National Oceanography Centre, the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the University of East Anglia, is driving forward a new PhD training initiative to enhance the use of smart and autonomous observation systems (SAOS).

These technologies play an increasingly important role in capturing environmental information from places considered to be too difficult or dangerous for humans to work.

Launched this week (6 October 2015) by NERC and EPSRC the new £2.5m Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) known as NEXUSS – ‘NEXt generation Unmanned System Science’ – will train three annual intakes of eight PhD students each, starting in 2016.

Specialised training in the use of innovative sensor platforms such as unmanned aircraft and autonomous robotic submarines will create the next generation of highly skilled researchers whose expertise will contribute both to scientific breakthroughs and to economic growth

Professor Mike Meredith, Deputy Director of Science at BAS, said

“Making measurements of the polar environments by traditional means is hugely challenging, due to their remoteness and extremely harsh conditions. There are limits to how much can be done directly by scientists, and increasingly BAS is developing and using autonomous technology to collect the datasets needed to understand these globally-important regions. This Centre for Doctoral Training is an extremely welcome investment by NERC in training the next generation of environmental scientists in the use of cutting-edge autonomous systems, and will enable us to build further capability in this important area.”

The UK government has identified smart and autonomous observation systems (SAOS) as important for the nation’s future; the UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) 2020 National Strategy led to £400m in government funding being earmarked for sectors such as the marine industry, while the ‘Eight Great Technologies’ initiative recently provided more than £10m of investment in marine autonomous systems within NERC, which now has the biggest fleet of autonomous vehicles in Europe.

Dr Sophie Fielding, a zooplankton ecologist from BAS, is involved in the partnership. She said,

“This is a fantastic opportunity. Autonomous observing technologies are revolutionising the way we observe the marine environment, enabling us to tackle globally-important issues in challenging environments. This new training partnership will attract new talent to an exciting field. I very much look forward to working with the new intake of PhD students.”

Ocean glider, deployed from RRS James Clark Ross in Antarctica
Ocean glider, deployed from RRS James Clark Ross in Antarctica