News - Winter in Brisbane, Seattle style

4th July 2012

For 15 robotics students from the University of Washington in Seattle, data analysis just got a whole lot more interesting.

The students are undertaking a summer quarter in robotics, including marine robotics, in a joint venture between Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and their home university.

QUT lecturer and researcher in robotics, Dr Ryan Smith, said while the US State of Washington like Queensland bordered the Pacific Ocean, the marine life and ecosystems off the two coastlines couldn't be more different.

"There are no coral reefs off the coast of Seattle," Dr Smith said.

"By coming here and undertaking robotic experiments in our warmer waters these students are able to gain a whole new view of the science they're studying.

"Data analysis is no longer something viewed coldly or with distance. By immersing themselves literally in Queensland's marine environment, the students have gained a passion and lifelong understanding of what robotic monitoring of corals, sea grasses and the marine environment is all about."

The students are studying at QUT as part of the University of Washington Study Abroad Program.

University of Washington Associate Professor Kristi Morgansen said the program was designed to widen the academic and research potential of students from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.

"Many of the students undertaking this study quarter at QUT are the first in their families to attend university and for most it's not only the first time out of the United States but the first time they've travelled out of their state of Washington," she said.

"This is a big deal for them. It's a life-affirming study opportunity that encourages them to broaden their horizons both personally and in terms of the use of robotics in environmental monitoring."

University of Washington robotics student Natalie Rodrigeuz said QUT was offering students a huge opportunity to study robotic systems.

"The difference in the underwater environment off the two state coastlines was enormous," she said.

"The water off the Queensland coast is much clearer and we're learning how to program a robot for this specific environment."

Fellow student Rem Baumann said students had been writing a program to enable a robot to collect data from the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

"This will provide us with information on the ways in which water temperature and salinity vary on the reef," he said.

"Because we don't have this environment off the coast of Seattle, we're learning something we can't learn at home."

Studying the marine environment off Queensland's coast in winter is not something these students balk at with Queensland's winter temperatures being akin to summer in Seattle.

Dr Smith said the robotic summer school was an embryonic step towards greater ecological and robotic collaborations between the two universities.

download hi-res image here.

Media contact: Rose Trapnell, QUT media team leader, 07 3138 2361 or 0407 585 901

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