Nina Mahmoudian's job is much harder than herding cats—she coordinates underwater robots. Much like a school of fish, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) can move in patterns that maximize their movement, says Mahmoudian, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech. More importantly, she adds, the goal is efficient planning and coordination of AUVs to help them stay out longer and prevent unnecessary human intervention that might endanger people, require extra equipment, money or shipping time, or slow down a mission.
"Basically what we’re looking at is creating a team of robots that recharge and maintain other robots," Mahmoudian says, explaining that maintaining a robot's mission is called continuous operation.
How this strategy plays out in people's daily lives is much closer than the ocean floor. A lot of folks know Amazon wants to use drones to drop off packages, and in order to find the most efficient route through a neighborhood or recharge drones, those robots have to be coordinated. Mahmoudian's research into continuous operation can help make programs like Prime Air happen.
For her work in extreme engineering—the watery depths of the oceans and Great Lakes are not easy laboratories for robotics—Mahmoudian is one of 83 of the nation’s brightest young engineers selected to take part in the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) 22nd annual US Frontiers of Engineering (USFOE) symposium. She will join other engineers ages 30 to 45 who are performing exceptional engineering research and technical work in a variety of disciplines; Mahmoudian focuses on robotics and underwater autonomous vehicles. The participants -- from industry, academia, and government -- were nominated by fellow engineers or organizations. The 2016 symposium will be held on September 19-21 in Irvine, California. Mahmoudian is also a recipient of 2015 National Science Foundation CAREER award and 2015 Office of Naval Research YIP award. She is the founding director of the Nonlinear and Autonomous Systems Laboratory (NAS Lab) at Michigan Tech and her research interests are in the area of cyber-physical systems, autonomous systems, nonlinear dynamics and control. Specifically, she is interested in dynamic modeling, motion planning, and developing cooperative control algorithms to autonomous vehicles.