Massachusetts Institute of Technology / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program
PhD Ocean Engineering ’05
Doctoral Thesis: Large-Area Visually Augmented Navigation for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
Michigan State University
BS ME Hon. ’98
NA 320 – Marine Hydrodynamics I
NA 340 – Marine Dynamics I
NA 568 – Mobile Robotics
Vision-aided navigation, underwater image processing, simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), multiple vehicle networks, long-term autonomy, and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).
When Professor Ryan Eustice was an undergraduate at Michigan State, he had yet to find his calling. After doing summer internships in automotive research and development, he decided he wanted to attend graduate school. However, he was still unsure about which field of study to pursue. While perusing Aerospace programs online, he stumbled upon the field of Ocean Engineering: building underwater autonomous vehicles that survey the ocean floor. “It seemed like this was something I saw on the Discovery Channel,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘I didn’t know I could actually do this!'” Fast forward two years, and Professor Eustice was embarking on expeditions to deploy robots underwater—sometimes with television camera crews.
“It was like I was coming back full circle,” he recalls. “The reason that I got into this was that I saw some of the autonomous vehicle work being done and began to think of the Discovery Channel or National Geographic. And here I was. This is what I’m doing!”
While earning a PhD in Ocean Engineering through a joint program between MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he helped design and deploy underwater vehicles to survey the tectonic plates of the mid-Atlantic ridge and ancient Greek shipwrecks.
Because of this experience, Professor Eustice became interested in simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), which allows robots to sense their environment and properly navigate underwater or indoors—places where satellite data is unavailable.
Using camera data from a survey of the Titanic, Professor Eustice showed in an award-winning research paper that an underwater vehicle could build a detailed 3-D model of the wreck and independently navigate it.
“It really was an eye opener for folks to see that you can do this with a camera system and a really difficult underwater environment,” he says.
In 2006, Professor Eustice returned to his home state of Michigan when he accepted a position at U-M in the Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering department. He serves as the director of The Perceptual Robotics Lab, where he continues to research SLAM and its applications in ocean surveying and naval security, among other applications.
If you are a student just starting out in engineering, Professor Eustice encourages you to trust your gut and press through challenging courses.
“You want to stick it through,” he says. “I think it pays off in dividends when you’re able to settle into [an engineering career].”
For a full list of Prof. Eustice’s publications, please see the publications page on his website.