Engineer developing robotic sensors for underwater cave exploration
By Megan Sexton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-1421
As a kid, Ioannis Rekleitis was fascinated by science fiction, especially robots and space travel. It wasn’t until he was working on his doctorate in computer science that Rekleitis realized how fortunate he was to pursue a career in a field that has always interested him.
“I was having coffee with a friend and she asked, ‘How are you doing?’ I said, ‘Not so good today. My robot is misbehaving.’ She looked at me and started laughing,” Rekleitis says. “She said, ‘You realize you are one of the few people on this planet who can say that and mean it, literally.’ That made me think. At that time, I was one of the very few people who was working with something so rare.”
A few years later, Rekleitis earned a fellowship to work on robotics and spacecraft engineering at the Canadian Space Agency. “After some of the reading I did about robots and space travel when I was a teenager to then going to work on spacecraft engineering — it had a very cool ring to it,” he says.
His career path led him in 2014 to the College of Engineering and Computing, where he has established a research program in field robotics with a focus on marine and coastal environments. He studies algorithms for controlling different kinds of mobile robots and has made substantial progress toward robots that operate more reliably and more independently. He’s accomplished that by constructing accurate maps of their environments and planning efficient motions to achieve their goals.
“Research in this area is particularly timely — as robot hardware becomes more capable, it is crucial to understand how to develop software that can effectively leverage that hardware,” Rekleitis’ computer science and engineering colleagues wrote in nominating him for the university’s Breakthrough Star award. “Ioannis’ research helps to bridge the divide.”
After some of the reading I did about robots and space travel when I was a teenager to then going to work on spacecraft engineering — it had a very cool ring to it.
His most recent work involves developing sensors for marine robots that can map underwater caves. “I grew up in Greece and was always fascinated about the water. I started swimming age 3 or 4; I was snorkeling by 5 and had a spear gun by age 7,” he says.
He works with experienced cave divers, using technology that measures specifications of the caves. The technology for the sensors was developed at USC and now is being tested underwater in Barbados.
“Eventually I’d like to expand to use autonomous robots, but we are far from it. Caves are very challenging environment,” he says. “Lots of area, lot of nooks and crannies. We don’t want to lose an expensive robot. But eventually [using an underwater robot] is what we are aiming for.”
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