Partnership project delivers collaborative marine robots for deep water surveys

A project led by ASV Global, working in partnership with the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), Sonardyne International Ltd and SeeByte, has successfully delivered a long endurance, multi-vehicle, autonomous marine survey solution.

A recent two-week trial in Loch Ness was the culmination of the three-year ‘Autonomous Surface and Sub-surface Survey System’ collaborative project, part-funded by Innovate UK and Dstl. The aim of the project was to deliver an integrated system to perform low cost, full water column marine surveys using multiple marine robots.

During trials in and on the loch, Sonardyne’s USBL acoustic positioning and AvTrak telemetry systems enabled ASV’s C-Worker 5 Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) to locate, track, and control the NOC’s Autosub Long Range (ALR) Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Position and mission status updates were transmitted to shore via RF communications.

The need to collect more data from marine environments means that marine robots need to be at sea for longer. Establishing robust communications between submarine and surface robots means that positioning accuracy - which is crucial for gathering high-quality survey data - can be optimised on missions lasting weeks or months, without the need for manned surface vessel support. This innovative technology has the potential to deliver dramatic cost savings in a wide range of maritime applications, from oil and gas pipeline surveys to scientific studies of coral and deep-water seabed mining impacts. 

Matthew Kingsland, Senior Robotics Systems Engineer at the NOC, said: “We are now able to send down new instructions via acoustic communications to avoid the Autosub vehicle having to surface from six kilometres deep. We are not only tracking the vehicle, we are also getting high-quality data back from the system via acoustics, so we can make informed decisions.”

James Cowles, ASV Global’s Commercial Technical Sales Manager, said: “This project has enabled ASV to extend its survey capability; pairing an AUV with our already proven survey platform, the C-Worker 5, has opened up new opportunities for our technology."

Geraint West, Global Business Manager, Oceanographic, Sonardyne, said: “We’ve shown that our technology can enable an AUV to operate autonomously with an USV and offload its Solstice side-scan survey data using our BlueComm high-speed optical modem. Proving acoustic enabled multi-vehicle tracking, command and control, with high-speed through-water data transfer also lays the ground work for long-range, over-the-horizon AUV survey operations.”

Pedro Patron, Engineering Manager at SeeByte, said: “Under this project, we have demonstrated a novel autonomous behaviour running under the Neptune Autonomy engine able to optimise search, localisation and tracking of multiple vehicles based on understanding of the overall mission tasks and the prediction of other vehicle positions. This behaviour enables safe unattended comms relay tasking and efficient data transfers for long-range over-the-horizon maritime operations.”