Researchers aim to help protect US Navy divers using AI systems

A group of researchers, including scientists from the University of Illinois Chicago, were given $725,000 from the US Office of Naval Research to develop an AI system to help protect divers from waterborne bacteria, parasites, and other harmful pathogens. The challenge for divers is that they are sent into all kinds of water as part of their service in the U.S. Navy. There are limited resources to understand any health risks associated with the waters they are operating within in real-time. The divers perform all manner of duties within the Navy, from fleet maintenance and repairs to search and rescue and rescue missions.

The most reliable technologies for testing water are typically lab-based analysis of samples viewed by scientists who know which microbes to screen for. However, with the dynamic nature of the job performed by U.S. Navy divers, there's no guarantee what type of weather, water current, water temperature, and if sewage or pollution is a factor in the waters they are operating in at any given time. By the time a water sample arrives at a lab and is tested, the conditions in the water could have changed.

Researchers believe AI can make a difference by offering a way to synthesize a vast amount of information very quickly for a specific calculation. In addition, scientists believe that they can bring the technology to fruition to improve the tools available to the Navy. The goal is to develop a system that can be used in any location by divers to analyze water conditions using a combination of user-provided and web-based information and human data.

Researchers say if they can provide divers or their commanders with a handheld device or app able to evaluate the ecosystem of the particular body of water in any potential health risks when they enter the water, mission planning would be improved for optimal health and safety. However, there's no indication when such a system might be ready for deployment at this time.