Experiments in Autonomous Robotic Systems: Tracking Mola mola: A Case Study in Outreach and Education

TitleExperiments in Autonomous Robotic Systems: Tracking Mola mola: A Case Study in Outreach and Education
Publication TypeConference Poster
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsOliveira, M, Sousa, L, Couto, A, Queiroz, N, Ferreira, F, Caldas, R, Pinto, J, Pereira, J, Fortuna, J, Faria, M, Sousa, J, Rajan, K
Date Published09/2014
Publisher1st International Marine Science Communication Conference (IMSCC 2014)
Place PublishedPorto, Portugal
Type of WorkPoster
Publication LanguageEnglish
KeywordsAutonomous Robotic Systems, Education, Outreach

During the month of May 2014 a team from the LSTS – Laboratório de Sistemas e Tecnologia Subaquática, from Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto led an innovative and ambitious experiment that brought researchers from Portugal, United States, Spain and Norway in a joint inter-disciplinary science and engineering effort, targeting marine science. The experiment was conducted off the coast of the Algarve near Olhão.


Autonomous aerial, surface and underwater vehicles tracked tagged Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola), the world’s largest bony fish, with the objective of obtaining data from the robots to provide new insights on the habits of these fish. In doing so researchers hope to understand the environmental context in which the fish operate and gain a better insight about their behavior in space and time. Robots provided measurements of the water mass around individually tagged fish and discretely track them as they moved within the upper water column.


An early aim of the experiment was to disseminate results and generate interest among a broader public than the usual academic and research audience.
However, reaching the general public can sometimes be difficult due to lack of interest and the lack of deeper understanding of the importance of such initiative. So how could we reach a new audience and at the same time captivate their interest for engineering and biology?


The solution was to focus on a specific audience of young students more prone to learning in new ways with the hope that they would be influenced to more likely follow a career in marine science or engineering.

With a few guidelines given by different institutions, experienced in working with young students, the initial options were discussed and an educational plan defined, keeping in mind our lack of experience, low number of resources and people.

To better execute this plan, all activities were defined in a way that could establish a real connections between what students were learning at their science classes and what was happening in the real field experiment. An 8th grade class from Escola Secundária José Régio, at Vila do Conde was invited to participate in this projects and as it was not feasible to take the students to the field with us, Internet became a strong ally.

Daily blog updates, and a video conference with researcher at Olhão were an effective way to keep the audience interested between the live interactions at school.
In the end, the strong relation between what is taught at science classes and the activities defined coupled with the right audience turned out to be the key to the success of this outreach plan.

However, there were also some unexpected aspects. The data gathered was not easy for student to interpret which led to one last incomplete activity, but, surprisingly, the students came up with a more rewarding activity. Since this school was the center of a fishing community, the enthusiasm was enough for one student to bring to school a dead Mola mola, caught by a relative. With the help of biologists in this experiment, the fish was dissected in the classroom, a first for a science class.

In this poster we will use our experience as a case study in reaching the young audience here in Portugal as a viable blueprint in engagement especially in the nation’s rich maritime history.

Citation Key190