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Alumnus interview: George Kantor

In 2007, both IEEE Spectrum magazine and the Washington Post highlighted a multi-university research project in which ISR alumnus George Kantor plays a key role. Kantor is a systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute and works in its Field Robotics Center.

The Deep Phreatic Thermal Explorer (DEPTHX) project is a $5 million, three-year, NASA-funded research effort. In addition to Carnegie Mellon, collaborators include the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Texas, the Colorado School of Mines, Southwest Research Institute, Stone Aerospace, Universidad de Nuevo Leon (Mexico) and Universidad del Noreste (Mexico).

The project’s primary objective is to use an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to explore and characterize the unique biology of Mexico’s El Zacatón, the world’s deepest known limestone sinkhole. This water-filled cavern is at least 300 meters deep and geothermally heated with a high sulfur content. It also lacks sunlight and dissolved oxygen. It’s an ideal place to search for exotic microbial life.

NASA hopes the robotic explorations and searches for microbial life in El Zacatón will help them develop a robot that can search for life in the liquid water ocean beneath the frozen surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

DEPTHX is a hovering AUV that can explore flooded caverns and tunnels while building 3D maps, collecting environmental data, and obtaining samples from the water column and cavern walls. Because it is autonomous, DEPTHX makes its own decisions: where to swim, which samples to collect, and how to find its way home. It chooses the most interesting biological areas where temperature, oxygen levels or other characteristics change. The vehicle is equipped with a Doppler velocity logger, a ring laser gyro-based inertial navigation system, a depth sensor, and 54 narrow beam sonar transducers. DEPTHX uses all of these resources together to perform simultaneous localization and mapping. Kantor’s research contributes to the robot’s control, mapping and navigation systems.

Kantor earned his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Maryland in 1999. His advisor was Professor P.S. Krishnaprasad (ECE/ISR). At Carnegie Mellon, Kantor teaches courses in robotic manipulation and controls and conducts research in control, sensing, and navigation for robotic systems. Kantor gave a talk on DEPTHX at ISR in February 2006. You can read the Washington Post article online.

April 15, 2008

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