The Team

Ship Location

American Samoa

Albert Palomer Vila

Photo of Albert Palomer Vila
PhD Student
Universitat de Griona

Tell us about your work / research. What kinds of things do you do?

I am a PhD student at the University of Girona in the Underwater Robotics Research Center. An underwater robot which is not assisted by any external sensor equivalent to GPS but for underwater purposes, the estimation of its position drift from its actual position along time. I have been working in the correction of this drift using multibeam data and an EKF implementation of the SLAM algorithm. This is, if the robot is seeing a new part of seabed, increase the map of the area explored, otherwise, compare what it is seeing with what it has seen and correct the vehicle position so that the observation fits the previously observed environment.
Now I am working in mapping using structured light. This is, by using a laser sheet and a camera, measure objects and surfaces with a much higher accuracy than with the previously used sensors.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

At the end of my undergrad, during the final degree project, I spent 6 months in Edinburgh in the Ocean Systems Laboratory at Heriot Watt University. There I was working with a land robot getting it ready so it could be used as a student laboratory platform. This was my first approach to robot localization. Moreover, there I had my first approach to underwater robotics and the specific problems the field faces. After that I moved back to the University of Girona for my Masters and PhD studies where I felt in love with the underwater robotics for many reasons, the most important part, the field experiments. With this type of vehicles I have been able to "be" at places where no one has ever been. Being able of doing so on the planet you live is amazing.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

Pere Ridao, who is now my supervisor, cough my attention, and the one of 2 of my classmates who are also in the Underwater Robotics Research Center. In his lectures of robotics, which where mainly focused in arms, I learned that what we were taught at the university can have some real impact. From that, he convinced me to to to Edinburgh for my final degree project, and then back to Girona for my Masters and PhD. 

What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?

From what I have done up until now, underwater localization and mapping using acoustic sensors, I like that I am able to develop an algorithm that, without any help of any sensor which is not on the robot, I can produce maps of areas with much better resolution that the ones without the algorithm that I have developed. From what I am working now, mapping with structured light, what fascinates me the most, although being a known problem, is how light is bent (making objects look distorted) due to the different mediums that it passes. 

What other jobs led you to your current career?

The truth is that I have not had many other jobs during and after my graduation. During my undergrad I collaborated with the Control Engineering and Intelligent Systems research group. All their work was from the office and I am a field guy, I need to be outside of the office. That is why I love developing and using underwater robots to explore. 

What are your degrees and certifications?

5-year degree in Industrial Engineering - Universitat de Girona 2012; Masters in Information Thecnologies and Automation - Universitat de Girona 2013

What are your hobbies?

I love being outside in the mountains, and if it can be in winter for ski mountaineering better. Moreover, I love climbing and canyoning mainly if this involves having lots of friends around enjoying new experiences.

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Study, but not solely. Be open minded and go to other places, laces where you will feel you are not smart enough for what you want to do. If you are only surrounded with people that cheers everything you do you won't evolve. Meet other people, but never leave back where you come from and who you are. EXPLORE.

How did you get involved in the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?

I spent four months a the University of Rhode Island during the period August-December of 2014. There I was working with the underwater mapping and localization algorithm with Dr. Chris Roman and their students. They where the ones to tell me about the Nautilus and OET. Moreover they offered me a bit more than a week on the Endeavor to test their Wire Flyer vehicle. That was my first experience at sea and that was amazing. This experience and the contact through Chris made me what to try to get on board the Nautilus.

"My whole life was facing towards the mountain up until I started my PhD. Now I am excited to go out at see and explore to help better understand the oceans."