Press Release

Marine Robotics Pioneer Bellingham to Lead Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy

Jim Bellingham, a pioneer in the worldwide autonomous marine robotics field who has led research expeditions from the Arctic to the Antarctic, has been appointed executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy (IAA) in Baltimore. The institute is run jointly by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, and the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) in Baltimore.

For more than 30 years, Bellingham has been a global leader in the development of small, high-performance autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), resulting in a class of systems that are now widely used within the military, industry and science communities. He joins Johns Hopkins from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) where he was founding director of the Consortium for Marine Robotics since 2014.

In 2020, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) committed $30 million to establish the IAA as a national center of excellence for assured artificial intelligence (AI) and smart autonomous systems. As smart devices, cars, homes, offices and cities proliferate with increasing autonomy, national leaders are taking action to assure the safety of the technology, build public trust and defend against cyberattacks. IAA’s mission is to assure the development of smart, autonomous machines and systems and to ensure their integration in society is beneficial, safe, secure, reliable and ethical.

Bellingham will concurrently serve as a research professor in the Whiting School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and as a senior advisor in APL’s Asymmetric Operations Sector, where he’ll help advance government and defense innovations for national security.

To propel the development of assured autonomous systems, Bellingham said he is excited to help strengthen research partnerships across Johns Hopkins, and between the university and external public and private partners regionally, nationally and globally.

“AI and autonomous systems are moving from the laboratory into everyday use at an accelerating rate,” Bellingham said. “Developing the tools and approaches to ensure reliable, safe, assured systems is a critical challenge.

“I’m honored to join one of our nation’s top research institutions in meeting this challenge, which spans technology, policy and ethics. We look forward to engaging leading organizations, agencies and experts to build a community in autonomy assurance and amplify the human ingenuity that is central to these technologies, delivering great benefits to society.”

Since its inception, IAA has been led by co-Directors Tony Dahbura (WSE) and Cara LaPointe (APL), who will both remain as directors. Dahbura concurrently serves as executive director of the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute and an associate research scientist in the JHU Department of Computer Science. LaPointe manages the Assured Intelligent Systems program at APL.

Under their leadership, IAA has united dozens of researchers across the university, seed-funded transformative projects to lead advancements in the field, initiated partnerships with stakeholders across sectors and convened top experts for assuring the autonomous world.

A Pioneer of Autonomous Marine Robotics

Bellingham has been instrumental in innovations for ocean observing and has spent considerable time at sea, leading two dozen AUV expeditions in locations across the Antarctic, North Atlantic, Mediterranean, South Pacific and Arctic.

At the WHOI Consortium for Marine Robotics, Bellingham led a range of initiatives to advance robotics innovations, working with regional, national and global partners; these included creating the DunkWorks advanced design and prototyping center, revitalizing the Pressure Test Facility and initiating the Arctic Long-Range AUV program focused on oil-spill response. Under his direction, the consortium organized a range of high-impact initiatives including the Ocean Worlds Catalyst program, which teams with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop the science and technology for exploring oceans on other worlds, and the successful Marine Robotics Entrepreneurship Forum that fostered a range of programs, including U.S. Department of Energy-funded aquaculture activities.

He previously held leadership roles at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) that deployed fleets of AUVs to observe and predict ocean conditions, the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Laboratory at MIT Sea Grant, and Bluefin Robotics, a maker of AUVs.

Bellingham serves on a number of institutional boards and advisory boards, including Science Robotics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the Naval Studies Board, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering Medicine; OceanX, Dalio Philanthropies; the Institute of Marine Research, Norway; and MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen, Germany. He chaired the Naval Research Advisory Committee and served on the Secretary of the Navy Advisory Panel and several National Academies studies.

His honors include election to the National Academy of Engineering (induction October 2021), the Navy Superior Public Service Award, and the Lockheed Martin Award for Ocean Science and Engineering.

Bellingham has authored dozens of scholarly papers. He received a B.S., an M.S. and a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

IAA 2021 Events

This summer, IAA is scheduled to move into new headquarters in Baltimore’s historic Stieff Silver complex, the 1.2-acre former silver factory on the National Register of Historic Places, now owned by WSE.

In 2020, IAA invested in a portfolio of 10 two-year research projects uniting researchers across JHU to transform the technology sector and society. IAA is planning a public event in 2021 to report research findings to date. The research spans a range of practical applications, such as:

  • Developing a policy framework for autonomous vehicles
  • Developing software for safe traffic management in national airspace
  • Assuring safe operations of AI-enabled systems in offices, hospitals and other social spaces
  • Assuring privacy and fairness in AI technologies
  • Strengthening AI systems against adversarial attacks

IAA hosts a monthly speaker series for the Johns Hopkins community, attracting national thought leaders in autonomy and AI.

About Johns Hopkins IAA

The Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy is a national center of excellence ensuring the safe, secure, reliable and predictable integration of autonomous systems into society, covering the full spectrum of research across three pillars: technology, ecosystem, and policy and governance. Its goals are to ensure that autonomous systems will be trusted to operate as expected, to respond safely to unexpected inputs, to withstand corruption by adversaries and to integrate seamlessly into society.