Tallinn University of Technology

Water covers a large part of our planet and exploring it is quite a challenge. For some time now, the research community has been working on developing sustainable, autonomous, and remote-controlled robotic vehicles. Roza Gkliva, who recently defended her PhD at the School of Information Technology of TalTech, researched and tested such robots for her PhD thesis

Roza Gkliva robootika
Roza Gkliva (photo: Meelis Kobin/ TalTech)

Author: Kristina Traks

Gkliva, who is from Greece, has been living and working in Estonia for five years. She is very passionate about robotics, which she started to get more involved in during her undergraduate studies. Gkliva found it so fascinating that she decided to continue concentrating on robots in her future studies and research. During her Master’s studies, she worked on a project focusing on the motion of underwater robots, and later, became a PhD student at TalTech. ‘I came across an announcement published by Professor Maarja Kruusmaa on amphibious motion research and I had heard about the work of the laboratory of the Centre for Biorobotics on underwater robots so I decided to apply. After an interview with Maarja Kruusmaa, she invited me to join her team, and a month after the application process started, I moved to Tallinn,’ says Gkliva.

Traditionally, robots have been used in industrial environments. Today, robots have become our tireless assistants everywhere – mowing lawns and vacuuming dust in our homes, helping us with storage and delivering parcels. Often, the power source of a robot is its weak point – there are robots that need to be connected to a power grid at all times, which reduces their range of motion. However, Gkliva’s research involves autonomous robots that float in water and move in environments such as mud, snow, and wet sand.

How to study fish?

Gkliva set out to explore and test how robots could move on land and in water, while being extremely energy efficient and causing as little damage and disruption as possible to the environment in which they move. Such robots could be very useful in environmental monitoring as well as fish farming, for example. In fish farms, several hundred thousand fish swim together in a small area. It is important to keep an eye on them to see how they are growing and whether they have any parasites or other issues. Up until now, divers or large underwater robots have monitored fish enclosures; however, there is a fundamental issue with them. Fish are afraid of any intruders and try to escape them, so it is impossible to get close to them, let alone examine them.

‘In the last two years, as part of my PhD research, I have tested a mechanism that can move around completely submerged as well as drive on dry land. I completed a prototype, which I am developing further. As it can be easily reconfigured, it is a very promising mechanism so it is this part of the thesis that I am most proud of,’ explains Gkliva.

There is also the question of how a robot interacts with its environment. For decades, the focus has been on robot-human interactions, but as robots can now move in an aquatic environment, for example, robot-environment interactions have become more important. Professor Maarja Kruusmaa who supervised Roza Gkliva says that she would like to highlight the fact that Gkliva also researched robot motion in environments that have both liquid and solid properties. ‘In the future, these different types of devices could be used for environmental monitoring, for example, where it is necessary to take soil or water samples without causing too much damage to the environment. Now, after defending her PhD, Roza is working on a prototype of a mining robot. Its novel way of movement means that it is capable of moving in flooded and abandoned mine shafts.’

Gkliva has nothing but praise for TalTech. She says that obtaining her PhD was a rewarding and challenging process. ‘My supervisor made sure that I had everything I needed for my work and provided many opportunities for collaboration and networking, both within our team and with researchers from other universities. At the same time, she gave me space to work independently and take responsibility for my work,’ says Gkliva. ‘And naturally, the fast and un-bureaucratic administration of TalTech deserves commendation.’ 

From the lab to the real world

Gkliva says that she will continue to work with robots and sees a lot of development potential in the field of soft robotics, particularly when it comes to moving underwater and in amphibious environments. ‘My aim is to bring these mechanisms from the lab to the real world. At the moment, the technologies for providing power and pressure for small-scale and lightweight robots are still in their infancy, but my plan for the future is to develop these technologies further,’ explains Gkliva.  In addition, she also shares her expertise with students at TalTech – she teaches robotics and supervises their theses in this field.

Maarja Kruusmaa adds that Gkliva is independent and highly capable. ‘And she likes Estonia! Especially in the summer, when it’s not as hot as it is in Greece,’ she adds.

robootika allveerobot Roza Gkliva