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VIMS Discovery Lab program gives participants a glimpse at underwater research technology

Approximately 75 people attended a Discovery Lab about robotic underwater vehicles Jan. 17 at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Gloucester Point.

Dr. Mark Patterson, a professor at VIMS, was guest speaker during the program. Patterson, who heads the school’s Autonomous Systems Laboratory, described the design and operation of his robotic sub Fetch.

Such robots, Patterson said, "see with sound," bouncing sound waves through murky waters. Locally, such units will help with research of two newly-discovered Revolutionary War ships sunken off Yorktown.

By receiving the sound waves, Patterson said, the complex instruments can "make a picture" of what the robotic vessel sees.

But the high-tech instruments can occasionally have a bad day, Patterson said, such as when the computers glitch or their batteries run low. They rely on side-scan sonar, with some robotics subs freestanding and others tethered.

Fetch can travel to depths of approximately 50...

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