The latest Autosub Long Range (ALR) vehicles being developed by the National Oceanography Centre have completed their first round of commissioning trials in the waters of Loch Ness, Scotland, marking a major milestone on their journey to active service.
The new autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), ALR1500 - named for the 1500m depth to which they can dive - carried out a range of test missions of increasing complexity across three weeks in July and August to test the vehicle’s enhanced functionality, including Terrain Aided Navigation and environmental profiling capabilities.
The robotic sub passed its first major test with flying colours in Portland Harbour earlier this year, successfully demonstrating its integration with the unified Command and Control (C2) software platform that has been developed in parallel by the NOC with contributions from the Scottish Association for Marine Science, under the Oceanids programme.
These latest trials have shown that the vehicle’s hardware and software systems are communicating effectively with each other, which provides a solid platform as more functionality is added. Further trials are planned to demonstrate the long distance capabilities of the new vehicles, as well as integration with the new suite of innovative sensors that are also being developed as part of the Oceanids programme.
ALR1500 will further enhance the advanced marine observing capabilities available to the UK science community. Compared to the current 6000m depth-rated models, ALR1500 has been designed to have greater endurance and payload capacity by reducing the requirement for heavy and bulky pressure vessels that are needed for operating at extreme depths.
Optimised for surveying the continental shelf and upper slope, ALR1500 will have the potential for long endurance missions covering hundreds to thousands of kilometres over periods of several weeks to months at a time. This opens up exciting new research possibilities, such as a trans-Arctic under-ice mission, that will also require innovative navigational solutions, including Terrain Aided Navigation.
The ALR family of marine autonomous vehicles has become famous around the globe, not only for their ability to gather marine data from some of the most hostile locations on the planet but also as a result of the popularity of ‘Boaty McBoatface’, the name given to a previous iteration of the small yellow robot submarine following a public vote in 2016.