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How robots can be aquaculture's next caretakers

SINTEF ACE, Rataren. Foto: SINTEF/Magnus Oshaug Pedersen
Only 44 Young Research Talents in all of Norway were awarded FRIPRO scholarships. Senior Researcher Eleni Kelasidi of SINTEF Ocean was one of them. Now she is looking forward to diving into a world where fish and underwater robots happily coexist.

"I was so excited when I found out", says Eleni Kelasidi (38), her face bursting into a big smile over Teams on my screen.  

Kelasidi first got word that she had been nominated for the prestigious scholarship aimed towards researchers under the age of 40 while on a phone call with a friend, who after a few nerve-wracking minutes of searching found her application and shared the good news.

"It was absolutely wonderful, and maybe a bit scary too", she says.

Kelasidi has been working with autonomous robotic solutions for underwater operations for several years as a researcher at SINTEF Ocean. Her area of expertise lies in the modelling, control and experimental validation of methods for unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).


It comes as no surprise then that the title of the application is CHANGE – An underwater robotics concept for dynamically changing environments.

During the project's three-year period, she and the team will engage with completely new research areas relating to autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and the interaction between technology and biology. With a background rooted in the aquaculture industry, the CHANGE project will specifically look at the coexistence of these underwater robots and live fish.

Far to the sea

The salmon industry is currently underway with a move to more exposed areas. The cages are getting bigger, the number of fish is increasing by hundreds of thousands and the surroundings are getting rougher in terms of harsher weather. Consequently, there is a growing need for increased levels of remote monitoring and automation to ensure safe working conditions for operators, and healthy living conditions for fish. The use of autonomous UUVs will therefore be an important tool in the quest to meet these challenges and enable the industry to operate in an efficient, safe and sustainable manner.

"With the CHANGE project we aspire to create a turning point for autonomous underwater operations in dynamically changing environments. By incorporating biological parameters (i.e. fish behaviour) into the mathematical models, this interdisciplinary approach will provide a foundation for the resident underwater robotics systems of the future and thus enable them to operate in adaptation to live fish", says Kelasidi. "With 8MNOK in funding from the Research Council of Norway and 8MNOK from SINTEF, we have all the support and resources we need to really make an impact".

Eleni på merdekanten.jpg
Researcher Eleni Kelasidi is one of 44 young researcher talents who received the FRIPRO stipend for developing new methods for using underwater robots in various environments and in relation to aquaculture.

Building a team  

This is the first time Kelasidi will lead her own team – something she says is both a bit scary, but also very exciting. She says that for her, it's a dream to have the opportunity to build a team that works towards a common goal.

"For me, it is important that I can now have a PhD student in the project, and we will hire a Postdoctoral fellow. Here, we have three full years available to obtain fundamental knowledge not directed from the customer needs. We have the freedom to just perform research, test and investigate. It's fantastic", she says and adds, "It's important for us that the methods we develop can also be applicable in other maritime industries and subsea domains".

I, Robot

Robots have been a part of Kelasidi's world since she attended high school in Greece, where she read the book "I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov.

"This was it, and since then it has basically always been about robots and robotics for me", she says.

Indeed, it was this same work that brought her to Trondheim and NTNU.

"When deciding where to take my degrees I researched my options thoroughly, and I decided to come to Trondheim solely because of 'the snake-group' at NTNU, which was working on developing a robot snake for underwater use", she says. "During my research work, I have helped to successfully demonstrate the use of these snake robots in underwater operations".

With these results, Kelasidi has established herself at the forefront of both theoretical and experimental research on modelling and control strategies for underwater robots and has proven her ability to conduct independent and interdisciplinary research.

"This gives me great confidence when it comes to developing methods for UVVs autonomously operating inside the cage in the presence of live fish", she says. "This is a new concept for us, and a very important one at that. In a cage with 200,000 fish placed far from shore, these UVVs must control themselves and they must be able to 'read' the fish's movements and behaviour".

An exciting journey ahead

Eleni is looking forward to exploring these challenges and testing the methodology during the next three years.

"We will acquire new knowledge and technology for the robot systems of the future, where coexistence and cooperation with live fish and flexible structures during operations is vital. The project will result in advanced, realistic models and new control strategies for underwater robotics, and now we have three years to explore, discover and develop the solutions of the future".


Facts about FRIPRO:

Researcher Project / Young Research Talents: Funding is intended to give talented young researchers under the age of 40 in all disciplines and thematic areas the opportunity to pursue their ideas and lead a research project.

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