January 13th, 2012

Robots: From Reasearch to Industry in the AUV Market

Today David Lane from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh talks about his journey from research to business and back. He talks about how he got started in offshore work and robotics research and how that led him to develop new smarts for existing hardware. David shares his personal view on how the Thunderbirds, diving and the space race contributed to his focus on underwater technology. He also discusses his research on autonomous underwater vehicles, involving software architecture for decision making as well as complex sensors for understanding the world around you and underwater communication.
Further, David shares his experience of starting the company SeeByte, including the important first customer acquisition. In developing a working commercial solution, bridging the gap between where the university stops and industry starts, was an essential component.

David in the Ocean Systems Laboratory

David in the Ocean Systems Laboratory

David Lane

David Lane graduated in 1980 with a BSc in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and again in 1986 with a PhD in Underwater Robotics. In 1979 he worked offshore in the North Sea as diver/maintainer for British Oceanics Ltd, and from 1980-82 as a Development Engineer at Ferranti Ltd. From 1982 he held a series of research and academic appointments, culminating in a Professorial Chair at Heriot-Watt University in 1998. In 2001 he founded SeeByte Ltd and as CEO until 2010 led the company’s organic evolution from startup to a multi-million dollar organization. He is now at the Ocean Systems Laboratory.

His technical interests are in autonomous systems, sensor processing and underwater robotics. Over a 30 year period he has published widely in the scientific literature, making contributions in underwater vehicle control, servoing, docking and obstacle avoidance. He has developed flexible actuator sensing and control technology for novel robot gripper and biomimetic underwater propulsion applications. In sensor processing, he has led projects applying novel signal processing and data fusion methods using sonar and video systems to marine science and mine countermeasures detection and visualization. He has also led work on robot architecture, autonomous planning and SLAM navigation, culminating in practical automated systems working offshore performing inspection, repair and maintenance.

This interview focuses a lot on the business side of robotics and Davids journey from research to industry and back.

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  • Timothy Wojtaszek

    I have listened to this podcast since eps 20 and have really enjoyed them.  This one in particular I found full of useful perspective.  And my thanks to the team & effort they put in this and all episodes.

    Now the bad part.  The interviewer for this podcast was very distracting.  Instead of using his perspective to drive the Mr Lane to elaborate when necessary, the interviewer simply offered up his own answer, perspective, or opinion.  Done sparingly this is completely fine but it was as though the interviewer was simply using Mr Lanes comments as a spring board for his own.  I though Mr Lane was quite gracious in handling this.

    Maybe I am mistaken and you can ignore this comment. However there was one point where Mr Lane seemed to be implying about the use of AIV’s and the deprecation of floating platforms because of the dangers.  Specifically in locations where the people are possibly hostile, but the interviewer kept repeating the environmental dangers.  Mr Lane just couldn’t make his point.  I wanted to slap the interviewer.

    The information was still great, and I don’t mean to be harsh but I am trying to provide some feedback so the interviewer can hopefully understand what I appreciate in an interviewer and what makes one stand out from another.  It is a skill to develop and I wish you the best.

    thanks to all.

  • Per Sjoborg

    Hi Timothy, 

    As you, I am a longtime listener of the podcast, I am glad
    you liked this episode, it is quite different and I also like it a lot.
    David Lane was a perfect interviewee and any problems in the
    episode are entirely mine.

    As you say I intend to prompt elaboration and also get the listener
    to focus on particular pieces I find interesting as I listen to the
    Interviewee.

    A personal, non scripted, interview is what I consider the ultimate
    “You got to trust the person in the room” kind of situation,
    this also goes for me trusting myself, I simply have to highlight the points I,
    in the situation, think is most relevant for the listener, and not second
    guess myself, as that would sound just awful, some time I succeed,
    other times I do not, that is just the way it is. I am a beginner at this as
    I have only done approximately 15 interviews so far and I hope to become
    better at it as I do more, I can only ask for your patience.

    As to your particular comment, having had a listened (listening to
    your self doing this is an humbling experience I can tell you) I think David is
    talking about an hostile environment in a general sense, I mention weather,
    remoteness etc as I guess that that is the situation that Davids AUV are most often used in, they are usually several hundred meters below the ocean surface and even under the arctic ice, and in that particular situation humane interference is not likely.

    But I do concede that human intervention is also an issue that robots
    can help us address (for instance in the transportation of cash and valuables)

    I am glad you liked the interview and I hope we can keep you as a loyal listener and this is certainly a learning process for me, so keep the comments and feedback coming!

    Yours sincerely,
    Per