IMOS uses AUV systems to collect seafloor imagery at key reference sites around Australia. Benthic zones, some of the least observed habitats in the world, are ecological regions at the lowest point in a body of water, such as the ocean floor.
Over the past ten years, Professor Williams has used marine robotic vehicles to study these sensitive marine habitats around Australia's vast coastline. This has included surveys of coral reefs on the country's east and west coasts, as well as temperate regions in Western Australian, South Australia, Tasmania and NSW.
"My work in the development of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and our program of marine surveying are recognised internationally for the quality of the data we are collecting, as well as the scale of the program we operate," he said.
The program has focused on collecting long time-series imagery, helping scientists document habitat changes over time. This has included surveys following events such as coral bleaching and cyclones in tropical reefs.
The team has also documented changes in species such as urchins and kelp, and has studied deep water habitats along the continental shelf.
The data collected by the IMOS AUV Facility highlights the importance of sustained observing to track and monitor ocean habitats around Australia.
"Our research is helping marine ecologists track changes in benthic habitats and document range shifts in key species associated with changing oceanographic conditions, as well as exploring marine archaeological sites, and deep water geological zones," he explained.
"Oceanographic surveying is expanding rapidly thanks to the increasing endurance of marine robotic systems. Technology has developed to the point where there are now unmanned surface vessels that are capable of crossing oceans."
Robotics advancements have effectively 'unlocked' previously untraversed underwater regions, allowing researchers to collect data and map seafloor habitats, while also allowing them to be less reliant on more costly forms of access, such as research vessels.
Professor Williams' team has recently entered the final phase of introducing a new AUV system to their suite of vehicles, which has increased camera resolution and the capacity to survey nearshore and shelf environments, such as tropical and temperate reefs.
"We have also developed machine learning tools that let us manage the huge volumes of seafloor images that we've collected. At present we have more than five million seafloor images from around Australia, from the tropics in Queensland and WA through temperate regions in the south."
"These images and the detailed seafloor models we produce are providing fascinating insights into key areas of the seafloor", he said.
"It's necessary that these robots can operate for long periods of time without any direct human oversight -- therefore most decision making and planning will need to be embedded into the technology, which has been a key focus of our research over the past few years."
IMOS would like to extend our congratulations to Stefan on being recognised with the title by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is the world's largest technical professional organisation dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity.