Design of a Co-Navigational Aquaculture System; Automation in the Fishing Industry and its Implications On Unemployment

Crisanto, Alvaro, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Furukawa, Tomonari, EN-Mech & Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Baritaud, Catherine, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Foley, Rider, University of Virginia

Protein is an important macronutrient in a healthy diet, but a continuous increase in the human population has raised concerns about the ability to maintain animal protein availability. The aquaculture industry has presented itself as a possible solution to this concern. Aquaculture is the process of growing fish within a fish pen. However, a problem regarding aquaculture is the difficulty of cleaning the fish pen. Therefore, the technical project focused primarily on automating the cleaning of fish pens. When thinking about the increased prevalence of automation technology in various industries, a notable societal concern is unemployment. Hence, this concern was the basis of the STS research paper. The fish pens used in aquaculture are not located along the shoreline. Instead, the fish pens are located offshore due to increased production capabilities of fish. However, offshore locations are both difficult and dangerous to clean manually. Therefore, it is important to automate the cleaning process to ensure ease of cleaning and worker safety. To do this, the technical project will consist of fabricating a surface vehicle and modifying a purchased underwater vehicle; automation of both vehicles will ultimately occur through the use of Robot Operating Software (ROS.) The surface vehicle will be responsible for navigating the system throughout multiple fish pens while the underwater vehicle will be responsible for the physical cleaning of the net. Our team was able to successfully fabricate a surface vehicle, which was made up of pontoons, propellers, a water-resistant case, and t-slot rails. Furthermore, the underwater vehicle was also successfully modified to contain a cleaning mechanism consisting of a rotating disk and nozzles ejecting water. The efficacy of the surface vehicle was demonstrated by taking it to a lake and controlling its navigation throughout the water. The cleaning mechanism success was demonstrated by cleaning a net containing a substance and tree branches. In the future, additional implementations required will be co-navigation between the two vehicles and automation through ROS. To investigate the implications of automation technology on unemployment, the Social Construction of Technology STS framework developed by Pinch and Bijker was applied to the issue of automation. This application identified employees and consumers as the two main social groups influencing the direction of automation technology development. The research question guiding this investigation was: How much influence can fishermen exert in the development of automation technology for the fishing industry in the United States? To answer this question, two surveys were conducted: the first was for n = 50 undergraduate engineering students and the second was for n = 30 workers in an automation-advanced industry. With the results of the research, it was concluded that the influence workers exert on the development of automation technology is limited in comparison to the influence exerted by consumers. When automation technology is implemented, it will have a negative effect on the employment for people holding roles classified as low-skilled labor. Applying these results to the fishing industry is difficult unless we have a concrete definition of what is “low-skilled” in order to determine if fishermen lie in that group or not. While there is cause for concern regarding the supply of animal-protein, there is also cause for celebration due to potential effects of aquaculture increasing the protein supply which will be aided through an autonomous cleaning mechanism. When thinking about the effect of automation on unemployment, it is important to acknowledge the limited influence of employees on automation development. As a result of this limited influence, it is difficult to predict the consequences of automation on unemployment, especially in the fishing industry.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), Aquaculture, Automation

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Tomonari Furukawa
STS Advisors: Rider Foley, Catherine Baritaud
Technical Team Members: Kristen Babel, Brian Richard, Peter Stauffer, Charles Tilney-Volk

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