​​​Located in the Mediterranean Sea between continental Europe and northern Africa, Malta and its coastal waters are home to a large number of historical shipwrecks, making it an ideal setting to study marine archeology.

A group of students and faculty from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Harvey Mudd College spent their summer on the island nation, deploying underwater robots to map and visualize coastal shipwrecks.

The collaborative effort between the California universities and the University of Malta is part of the International Computer Engineering Experience (ICEX), and brought the archaeology, computer science and engineering experts together to create more intelligent ways to search, map and visualize shipwrecks.

The team consisted of three Cal Poly computer science students and three Harvey Mudd engineering students joined by Cal Poly Associate Computer Science Professor Zoë Wood and Harvey Mudd Engineering Professor Christopher Clark.

Thanks to NSF funding, the project will continue long after the trip to Malta—perhaps leading to the next technology used to map underwater objects.

"Through doing all of these things I gained a better appreciation for each part and a greater appreciation for what other members of my team and other researchers do," said Cal Poly student Sebastian Seibert von Fock. "I also learned how to work in a larger group to do something as amazing as visualizing underwater ship and plane wrecks and mapping totally unknown cisterns and wells (I felt like an explorer!).”

These type of interdisciplinary projects give CSU students hands-on research experience, which is linked to increased student success. They also put students in a setting where they must work with a team of peers and mentors that have different educational and professional backgrounds—something they are likely to experience in the real world after graduation.

Professor Wood is co-leading a similar research effort with CSU Long Beach Biology Professor and renowned shark expert Chris Lowe. The project is bringing together student engineers and biologists from Cal Poly and CSU Long Beach to develop an underwater robot to track the migration patterns of sharks and fish in order to better protect species. An expansion on this ongoing project was recently funded by the CSU’s Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology (COAST). The grant will be used to expand the current work into a multi-disciplinary project between robotics, biology and computer graphics students and faculty to enhance the study.