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A&A Doctoral student Nick Andrews receives Fulbright fellowship

June 2, 2023

Andrews will use his Fulbright to conduct AUV subsea inspection and intervention tasks in Norway.

Andrews described his plans for his Fulbright fellowship to the UW Graduate School, below.

I will be at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway, and advised by Professor Kristin Y. Pettersen. My research will develop and test control algorithms for a self-propelled, articulated, and modular eel-inspired autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) performing subsea inspection and intervention tasks. Professor Pettersen is the co-founder of Eelume, the only company in the world that is developing AUVs of this type for real-world application.

Nick Andrews headshots

Nick Andrews

Originally motivated by subsea oil and gas production, AUVs have applications beyond the energy sector to seafloor mapping, environmental monitoring, science, and defense. Robustness and independence are essential for AUVs; they operate in a harsh environment with limited human intervention. My research will use fundamental concepts from control theory, robotics, and artificial intelligence to design algorithms that optimally orient the eel AUV to maximize its “observability”; a metric of the vehicle’s perception that quantifies how useful its sensors are in providing situational awareness information. Maximizing the vehicle’s perception will improve its robustness and efficiency in accomplishing tasks in variable ocean conditions. Although the eel AUV is the designated application of this research, the methodologies developed also apply to a large class of other vehicles as well.

I received my BS and MS in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado, and I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. I spent 3 years working on spacecraft mission design and analysis for Boeing in Southern California after graduating from the University of Colorado and before coming to the University of Washington.

Up until about a year ago, my background was primarily in space-based robotics, but I had always been interested in underwater robotics because of the similar challenges that arise when designing autonomous vehicles to operate in these extreme environments. During the summer of 2022, I had the opportunity to participate in the VISIONS ten-day at-sea research expedition through the UW School of Oceanography. Over the course of the expedition, an underwater remotely operated vehicle controlled by the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility and about the size of a Kia Soul was routinely deployed to the seafloor to collect samples and perform maintenance on scientific instruments. I had an incredible time living and working at sea and found it tremendously rewarding to be a part of a  multinational science and engineering team. I knew immediately that this was something I could see myself doing after graduation and decided to make underwater robotics a bigger part of my PhD studies.

I’m looking forward to connecting with my Norwegian host community, contributing to exciting research, and exploring the fjords. I have never been to mainland Europe or abroad for an extended period of time, and I’m excited to immerse myself in Norwegian culture and make lifelong connections on the other side of the world. The most challenging engineering problems require expertise from a variety of fields and backgrounds, making effective communication paramount to mission success. I applied to the Fulbright Program because I want to develop a keen understanding of how to overcome cultural barriers and build lasting relationships in a collaborative multinational engineering environment. After graduation, I want to continue working on underwater and space robotics and would like a job that allows me to routinely travel or live abroad and collaborate with international researchers.

In addition to Nick Andrews, five other students from the Graduate School received Fulbright fellowships. Read about them.