Professor Franz Hover
Jordan Lewis asks MechE Professor Franz Hover about ocean-going electrical systems and turning a collection of odds and ends into an intelligent machine.
Tell us about your work with large-scale electrical systems. First, what constitutes “large?”
An oilfield, a naval ship, the power grid of the United States. All these large systems are growing in complexity. Our goal is to incorporate more components—or nodes—without reducing the reliability of the system. If the initial design is not optimized, it will mean challenges in construction, repair, and functionality. To strengthen the design, we use algorithms that select the best configuration for the nodes within a given system. The programming for these algorithms can be refined and calibrated to achieve a balance between efficiency and robust characteristics.
Explain the kind of impact this would have on board a ship.
Think about electricity on a ship for a moment. The vessel might be cruising in very remote stretches of ocean far from shore. As it is cruising, it is generating and serving power to all the onboard electric components. Reliability is important on land, but out here, it must be 100%. And if there’s a power outage or electrical failure, it must be resolved immediately. Obviously, if the power is interrupted to the ship’s steering, communications, or navigation, it could be very problematic. The design components we are introducing in these algorithms work to reestablish power to every compromised node very quickly perhaps less than a second.
You teach Design of Electromechanical Robotic Systems – 2.017. Is that as fun as it sounds?
Yes! For this class, we get the coolest sensors, gadgets, and tools we can find, then set a high bar for each team to solve a complex problem found in real working environments. We’re asking them to design and build large, integrated projects. Last semester, one team built an autonomous boat that was steered by GPS, then switched over to a sonar guidance system. The other project was a quad-rotor helicopter that incorporated an on-board camera, compass, and GPS, giving it the ability to land in a precise location. Each team combined the instrumentation and customized control algorithms to complete its mission. It was great fun to watch the students test the projects and prove how the designs managed the wind and waves.
Professor Franz Hover joined the Mechanical Engineering faculty in 2007. He received his ScD from the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in 1993 and worked at MIT as a research engineer after graduation. Hover has a broad research focus that includes autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), the all-electric ship, and large systems engineering. He recently developed an underwater robot capable of monitoring large ship hulls while they wait at anchor. Guided by sonar and imaging sensors, the robot can map the ship’s hull and relay images of foreign objects to the crew for further investigation. MechE Connects editor Jordan Lewis is a communications specialist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.