Maximizing Seaweed Growth on Autonomous Farms: A Dynamic Programming Approach for Underactuated Systems Navigating on Uncertain Ocean Currents

by   Matthias Killer, et al.

Seaweed biomass offers significant potential for climate mitigation, but large-scale, autonomous open-ocean farms are required to fully exploit it. Such farms typically have low propulsion and are heavily influenced by ocean currents. We want to design a controller that maximizes seaweed growth over months by taking advantage of the non-linear time-varying ocean currents for reaching high-growth regions. The complex dynamics and underactuation make this challenging even when the currents are known. This is even harder when only short-term imperfect forecasts with increasing uncertainty are available. We propose a dynamic programming-based method to efficiently solve for the optimal growth value function when true currents are known. We additionally present three extensions when as in reality only forecasts are known: (1) our methods resulting value function can be used as feedback policy to obtain the growth-optimal control for all states and times, allowing closed-loop control equivalent to re-planning at every time step hence mitigating forecast errors, (2) a feedback policy for long-term optimal growth beyond forecast horizons using seasonal average current data as terminal reward, and (3) a discounted finite-time Dynamic Programming (DP) formulation to account for increasing ocean current estimate uncertainty. We evaluate our approach through 30-day simulations of floating seaweed farms in realistic Pacific Ocean current scenarios. Our method demonstrates an achievement of 95.8 growth using only 5-day forecasts. This confirms the feasibility of using low-power propulsion and optimal control for enhanced seaweed growth on floating farms under real-world conditions.


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