Use of autonomous surface vessels in oceanographic applications continues to dramatically accelerate. The benefits of using these systems are no longer just being talked about, they are being proven; the entire marine industry has sat up and is very much tuned in to the latest developments happening around autonomous technology.
The UK government has continued its backing of this rapidly growing technology. 2017, and 2018 so far, saw new and warmly welcomed rounds of Innovate UK funding released into the industry and academia. Marine autonomy is no longer reserved for the military or high value R&D programmes, it is now actively deployed and proven in coastal and offshore environments all over the world.
At Oceanology International 2016 ASV Global (ASV) launched its then-brand-new C-Worker 5 class of vessels; a fleet developed specifically for hydrographic survey. The C-Worker 5 vessel was designed as a force multiplier to enable increased survey coverage and minimisation of weather risk by reducing survey duration. Fast forward two years to Oceanology International 2018 and the huge growth of autonomous surface vehicles is evident. ASV demonstrated the unmanned C-Cat 3, in partnership with Sonardyne, in Victoria Dock, London.
ASV have a strong relationship with the survey company TerraSond. In August 2015, prior to the development of the C-Worker 5, the two companies carried out a proof of concept survey operation. This operation, off the Alaskan coast, saw an ASV platform become the first autonomous surface vessel to update US nautical charts for NOAA. Upon successful completion of this mission it became clear that TerraSond shared ASV’s vision for using these systems for offshore hydrography to achieve significant efficiencies.
In 2016 ASV and TerraSond achieved an industry first – a 5,172 nautical mile (NM) charting survey in the Bering Sea off Alaska – 2,275NM of which were completed by the C-Worker 5. The autonomous vessel operated alongside the Q105 survey ship for 36 days reducing the overall time on site by more than 20 days. Using the C-Worker 5 as a force multiplier enabled TerraSond to utilise a small weather window whilst also reducing their costs.
Building upon the collaborative approach between ASV Global and TerraSond, another survey followed in 2017 which saw the C-Worker 5 complete 53% of a 4,800m charting survey. This marked the first ever seabed cable route survey supported by an autonomous surface vessel. In 2018, ASV Global and TerraSond once again announced the successful completion of a hydrographic survey for charting off the coast of Alaska. The 10,649km survey was carried out by a C-Worker 5 unmanned vessel alongside a Q105 mother vessel. Fitted with a multibeam echosounder, the C-Worker 5 carried out 5,639km (53%) of the survey.
“[C-Worker 5] was productive in an offshore capacity, but also effective when working close to rugged, rocky shoreline with an abundance of uncharted navigational hazards”, said Andrew Orthmann, Charting Program Manager, TerraSond.
TerraSond are the perfect example of a company who took the plunge and decided to make a change to the way they work. They have reaped the rewards of reduced operational time, improved health and safety, and overall lower costs. In this regard, they are miles ahead of their competitors.
There is much evidence to confirm that marine autonomy will soon become the norm. Before long, most survey companies will be utilising this technology on a regular basis. Right now, there is a window of opportunity for those that want to set themselves apart as leaders. Being an early advocate will enable companies, like TerraSond, to enjoy the benefits offered by these systems before the rest of the competition catches up.
The time for autonomy is now.
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